Maddie '24 creates virtual museum

The digitally curated work of Maddie Ewing ’24 will be showcased at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 9 during the Southern Festival of Books. It accompanies "Black Bottom Saints," a novel released in August with several USN connections.
University School of Nashville student Maddie Ewing ’24 spent the summer becoming an architect online. The freshman created four virtual reality art galleries to accompany former USN parent Alice Randall’s newest novel “Black Bottom Saints.”

Maddie pulled together 53 pieces of multimedia artwork by artist Jimmy James Green, measured digital dimensions, hung paintings, and created a museum-like experience where viewers can interact with the art and read messages that complement the book.

“My job was to hang them and work with a designer to build a museum as much as you can virtually. You can walk through the galleries, similar to an avatar experience,” she said. The project was sponsored by Google Fiber, took more than 35 hours, and will be previewed during the Southern Festival of Books this weekend. 

Randall and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams, a former USN Lower and Middle School student, will discuss “Black Botton Saints” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 9 during the 2020 Southern Festival of Books, being streamed through the festival’s app amid the pandemic. The novel takes place in Detriot, where Randall grew up and where the fictional character Uncle Ziggy tells the story of the city from 1948 to 1968 when it was the “carmel cauldron of black excellence, sports, arts, and music,” Randall said.
“The first words in the book are ‘we should rise from the ashes,’ and the city, country, and world are in ashes from the pandemic. This book says the arts and literary arts will help restore us to help us rise from the ashes,” she added. “Deep inspiration for the book was that we live in a very broken time, and we need a focus on deep virtues. Each of these saints represents a deep virtue and helps us move from trauma to transcendence. A big theme of the book is ‘joy is radical.’”
Randall planned to take the book and Green’s accompanying art pieces on tour around the country. Then COVID-19 halted plans to travel and gather. Yet she has found the virtual museum provides the opportunity for people to do more than a temporary brick-and-mortar gallery would have allowed — people are able to explore the museum Maddie created in their own space and at their own pace.
“I wanted to hire professionals, but no one could figure out how to do this. Maddie built all of this,” said Randall referring to the virtual Detroit River and city skyline outside of the Black Bottoms Saints Museum. “She has really good spacial sense and taught herself coding. We’ve had to videotape the tour since adults have trouble navigating the platform. It’s a beautifully elegant and beautiful design. She executed it perfectly.”
USN parent and music producer Carter Little has also created a Spotify playlist to accompany the book, art, and museum.
Meanwhile, Ewing — who said she learned time management skills while creating the museum — is already thinking about helping others with website creation and learning more about coding.

To read more about the art museum and novel, visit BlackBottomSaints.com or AliceRandall.com. The museum website will be formally released to the public this winter. Click here to read a Vanderbilt News article on the mother-daughter duo of Randall and Randall Williams.
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    • "Black Bottom Saints," the novel

    • Maddie Ewing '24

    • former USN parent, author, and Vanderbilt University professor Alice Randall

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