Samuel Mockbee spent five days a week in Alabama at the Rural Studio and weekends and summers with his family in Mississippi.

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Subrosa Pantheon


In the last two years of his life, Samuel Mockbee dedicated a good deal of time to designing a project called Subrosa Pantheon. The concrete structure is buried deep into the ground, with a long entrance tunnel that opens up to a circular space with an open ceiling and a turtle pond in the center. A bench is located in a recessed section, above which a canopy of roses falls through the open ceiling. Visitors sit on opposite sides of the bench, under the roses, to tell secrets into metal tubes that travel around the structure. As one person whispers into the tube, the other listens to the secret on the other side.

Subrosa is intended to be a meditation space. The term “subrosa” derives from the ancient Romans who would hang roses from the ceiling to enforce confidentiality among those present. If anyone from the gathering divulged information from a “subrosa” meeting, the others had the right to kill that person and his family. In Mockbee’s mythology, the turtles in the pond are the guardians of the secrets of Subrosa. If someone betrays those secrets, the turtles will come after them. After his death, Sambo’s drawings for Subrosa were interpreted by his daughter Carol, who constructed the pantheon during her time as a Rural Studio student.

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