Southern Yard Spaces
"The southern yard can at once be a garden, a place to while away the day, a landscape of cultivation and utility, and a landscape where personal objects are collected, displayed, and sometimes forgotten." - Walter J. Hood Jr. & Mellissa Erickson, "Storing Memories in the Yard"
To some people driving across the Mississippi Delta on Highway 61, the appearance of a tree covered with colorful bottles may seem like just another bizarre roadside attraction dotting the American landscape. However, trees such as the one above serve a much more significant role in the yard spaces of African American communities. The spiritual aspect of life is one that does not go ignored by many African American southerners. Bottletrees represent one of the many examples of artistic creations used to ward off evil spirits and bad karma. Colorful bottles, usually blue, are stuck onto the protruding limbs of a tree. These bottles are then believed to be able to lure evil spirits close and then trap them inside, "bottling" them off from the rest of the home.
The clustered arrangement of ornaments seen in the yards of Afro-American southerners may appear merely as "junk" at first, yet within these yards something more spiritual is at work. The yard in southern culture hosts common and everyday rituals in connection with the home. Below is a photograph taken from a yard in a small Afro-American community near Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Within the rural community, known as Beehive, many homes feature similar yard arrangements as the photograph below. Notice the fenced-in portion, where porcelain angels surround a blue ball. The blue ball in the middle of the photograph is likely used to deflect evil spirits from this person's home.
Below, the idea of blue objects being used to repel evil spirits is taken to another level. At first glance, the fencepost in the middle of the photo may appear to be another random object lining the yard. However, the blue and red colors serve to keep the yard spiritually clean. In fact, the entire perimeter of the yard is lined with fenceposts colored identical to this one. This home is also located in Beehive, South Carolina.
The color blue makes another return in the photograph below. In the picture below, notice the blue ball yard ornament to the immediate right of the American flag. This home is located in Mt. Pleasant, in a much wealthier neighborhood than Beehive.
In addition to yards, some places use the color blue on the home itself. The image below is taken from the back of a church in Beehive. The roof is painted blue to keep devilish spirits away from the community's place of worship.