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Hannah Jones

Eco-artist creates quarter-acre Maya Angelou portrait using only natural materials

Those wanting to see the portrait should head to Freedom Park before the temporary piece dissipates into nature. (Photo by John Zarr.)

By Hannah E. Jones

A new, larger-than-life art piece has found a temporary home in Atlanta’s Freedom Park — a portrait of renowned poet and activist Maya Angelou, with the words “And Still I Rise” printed below. The large-scale project is remarkable in both size — sitting on a quarter-acre — and in method, as it’s made entirely of natural materials like grass clippings, wood chips, dirt, rocks and sand.

Stan Herd working on his third public art piece in Atlanta. (Photo by John Zarr.)

Created by eco-artist Stan Herd, the portrait serves as an ode to the woman who sought change through her art.

Herd has been an earthwork and crop artist for over 45 years, traveling around the U.S. and abroad to craft his nature-based art. With Herd’s upbringing in a Kansas “farming community with a large family,” the union of nature and art made sense. 

“Years ago, I decided that I would honor the many generations of my family who worked the land by trying to create [artwork] on the land, using crops and all that,” Herd said.

Over the last few years, Herd has been repeatedly drawn back to Atlanta — a hub of vibrant culture and a frequent spearhead in social change. The recent portrait is Herd’s third project in the city, which all highlight well-known activists or changemakers. In 2020, he created a quarter-acre portrait of John Lewis and the next year, one of NASA Astronaut Stephanie Wilson

“Everything we do is guided by humanitarianism and respect for the landscape, [looking at] the relationship between humans and our ecological home,” Herd said. 

He added: “Everybody in my crew is completely taken by Atlanta — the mixture of cultures, races and religions. There’s something about it, some ‘je ne sais quoi’ — it’s beyond explanation almost but you feel it.” 

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, Herd wanted to design a public art piece to advocate for women’s rights. Known as a powerful activist, Angelou felt like the right subject to represent Herd’s call for freedom.

“Women’s rights around the world have been under attack, historically, forever. There have been great strides in the U.S. until just a year or two ago when, suddenly, women’s rights are being taken away,” Herd said. “Women and female minorities in the U.S. are at the greatest disadvantage, and we thought [Angelou’s] voice, her message, her life, her beautiful spirit spoke directly to that.”

Herd and his team. (Photo by John Zarr.)

Using the Earth as a canvas, Herd and his five-person team crafted the oversized image entirely by hand — no GPS or computer necessary. Creating something of this size is a big commitment, and Herd estimated that 200 hours of labor went into this piece. 

Those wanting to check out the portrait can head to Freedom Park’s large field near the intersection of E. John Lewis Freedom Parkway NE and Moreland Ave NE. 

“It’s so amazing to have her image come out of the Georgia soil,” Herd said. “It’s almost like I’m not responsible for it. I’m not a very religious guy but it’s like something else is guiding our hands a little bit.”

Because the portrait is built entirely from organic materials, the work is inherently impermanent — a key component of many of Herd’s pieces. He sees this approach as a sign of respect for Mother Nature, using the Earth as a backdrop while not permanently altering the landscape. 

He raises funds for these projects through The Herd Initiative, a nonprofit network of artists seeking to use their work to inspire larger awareness and change. Herd finished the project in early December, and already has his eyes set on his next endeavor. Sometime this winter, Herd will jet to Brazil for his next eco-art piece. 

Folks wanting to see the portrait in person should head to Freedom Park soon — before the temporary piece dissipates into nature.

Scroll through the slideshow below for additional shots of Herd’s new large-scale artwork. Photos by John Zarr.

Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.


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