American, born 1945
Number II (Ritual Furnace), 1978
Clay with wood base
12 x 29 x 29 inches (30.5 x 73.7 x 73.7 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Armand J. Castellani, 1996
Charles Simonds has created an entirely imaginary civilization, which he calls Little People, complete with its own history, belief system, and way of life. The people themselves are never seen; we know them only through the architecture they leave behind. Like Native Americans, whose architecture their structures resemble, the Little People’s lives are centered around nature and the land. Their buildings are made of clay, which comes from the earth, and other natural elements such as twigs, bones, or sand.
In Ritual Furnace, a path leads through an opening in the dilapidated wall to a staircase that ascends to the upper section of the building. We have to imagine the inside configuration and how a person would reach the staircase at the back of the structure, which exits directly onto the roof, where there is a hexagonal construction with a circular wall in the center. Inside the circle is black pigment, which implies that something was burned—perhaps in a ritual sacrifice.
In evoking a past time, Simonds guides viewers to think about the present. The structures of the Little People are not intended as an escape from reality, but to encourage us to think about our society today: what we create, what we destroy, what we value, what we believe, and what we will leave behind as our ruins.
Related Lesson Plan
Imagine Your Own Civilization (For Grades K–12)
Activities for Families (PDF)
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