Fire Bill's Spook Kit

Wilmer Wilson IV

  • main galleries
  • artist in residence


This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S.A.'s participation in World War I. The In Flanders Fields Museum proudly presents the American artist Wilmer Wilson IV as artist-in-residence 2017.

Fire Bill's Ghost Kit is the result of Wilson's research into the consequences of American participation in the Great War. Before that, he spent long weeks in the Research Centre of the museum and explored cemeteries and farms in and around Ypres. The artist makes connections between the heavily drawn landscape of the Belgian front and parts of the American countryside that were plagued by social terror after the war. At the centre is an unknown figure called Fire Bill who in 1919 sent an angry letter to a sheriff in Mississippi. In it he threatened to "burn down the whole state" and "poison every horse, mule, and cow" if there was no end to the constant lynching of blacks. Within the context of the museum, the letter is an allusion to at least nineteen World War I black veterans who were lynched after their return to the United States.

The heart of the project is the monumental sculpture Measures Not Men, which consists of 3,000 kg of salt licking stones. Wilson himself, with the help of local stonemasons, cut two very different archive versions of the letter on either side of the blocks. The monolith thus formed not only serves as a monument, but also embodies part of a mourning process - as do the numerous memorials and cemeteries that dot this region.

The artist also erected a series of sculptures: scarecrows found on Flemish farms. We see scarecrows as grotesque figures from folklore, but here they take on a chilling seriousness.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication designed by the artist himself, with contributions by Ladi'Sasha Jones and Mashinka Firunts.

Wilmer Wilson IV combines everyday objects in a surprising way to introduce us to forgotten stories and meanings from history. He expresses himself in various art forms, including sculpture, photography and performance. His works have been on display in numerous museums since 2011, including recently at the Barnes Foundation, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the American University Museum, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, but this is his first solo exhibition. He lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.