Down to Earth – Winter

From an abundant sunrise breakfast scene on the river, looks of anguish, fear, and determined struggle to the community self-sustaining itself with looming development. Rik Freeman used his 13-week residency to create three large-scale oil paintings depicting how animals and plant life have used and cared for the land in Ward 7 ranging from 1200 BC to the current day. These paintings will on view at the Down to Earth Exhibit in the first quarter of 2022. For now, view below images of all three of Rik’s paintings and his descriptions for each.


Breakfast on The Anacostia, Canvas 4’ H x 6’W; painted in oils

The time period is roughly 12,500 BC, before human habitation of the area we now call the Anacostia River. The scene is sunrise, and all of nature is searching for that first meal of the day, and some will be that meal. It is a very active scene with twenty-plus species of mammal, fish, amphibians, and insects depicted, and a multitude of flora and fauna.

While researching the abundance of animal life that depended on this river, it struck me how many of these animals were no longer here, moose, mastodon, buffalo, sturgeon fish, which were still so plentiful that when Europeans arrived they said you could just reach in the water and pull one out. Because of my canvas size, I chose to eliminate portraying some of the larger animals, a strange irony.

Storms from The East Canvas 4’ H x 6’W; painted in oils

From 12,000 BC forward the Anacostia River area was inhabited by humans that became known as the Nacothtank Peoples. I am portraying them as they lived before contact with European colonists, but also the demise of their civilization because of that contact.

I had intended to portray everyday living in a communal setting, showing the various chores that make a Nacotchtank village thrive. Such as cooking, planting, and harvesting of crops, upkeep of the longhouses, fishing, hunting, and trade with Europeans, and issues of conflict. After considering the scope of the subject matter, and especially after a few email exchanges with Professor Gabi Tayac, a member of the Piscataway Nation, I decided in this instance to paint a number of the Nacotchtank Peoples in a dugout canoe navigating a very turbulent Anacostia River while an English ship is on the eastern horizon.

I chose this scene because of the importance the river held for these people and their way of life, their food, travel, and trade depended upon this river. The sky over the dugout is as turbulent as the river, and the people in the dugout, a mother comforting her infant child and her other two children with looks of anguish and fear, the two men, warriors from their village show a determined struggle to take them to safety.

A Self-Reliant Community Canvas 4’ H x 6’W; painted in oils

From the late 1800s to the present the title is a statement to the African American people who made this community of Deanwood their home, which has existed since shortly after the Civil War, and in particular, the Eastland Gardens neighborhood, which once held garden shows, and the river was still clean and fathers taught their sons how to fish, and in the oasis known as the Aquatic Gardens, Mr. Lundy, who was the first there to propagate the water lilies and lotus plants, and whom I consider as their Dr. George Washington Carver.

Because of racist policies, they had to be a self-reliant community, and thrived as such with many Black-owned businesses, from plumbers, electricians, to grocery stores, vegetables stands from neighborhood gardens, doctors, lawyers, and the only racetrack in the DC metropolitan area, there was also an amusement park, built because Glen Echo Park in MD was segregated. This is juxtaposed with bike and hiking trails, high rise complexes symbolizing gentrification, and river pollution from years of neglect, and the clean-up led by Dennis Chestnut, who grew up here, swam in these waters as a child when it was clean, and now educates many on how to maintain a clean and healthy river.


Learn more about Rik’s creative process during his 13-week residency:

Down to Earth. Shining a light on the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the Kenilworth area’s past, present, and future with a sharp focus on the climate emergency and its intersectionality with systemic racism. Through Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall we will journey with the artists as they create their projects; focus community advocacy efforts. We invite you to follow along and participate when we can gather.

Down to Earth takes place on the land of the Piscataway people of the Algonquin-speaking tribes, as well as the lands of the Native American people of the greater Anacostia, Potomac, and Tidewater regions.