The Laborers' Banquet
larch, douglas fir, steel - 32" x 60” x 200”
Schoonoord National Forest, Drenthe, Netherlands
For centuries, the northern Dutch province of Drenthe had been a bleak, treeless landscape of peat bogs and heather. In the early 20th century, thousands of unemployed workers were forcibly relocated to this region to begin an aggressive reforestation program — poorly paid, living in rudimentary labor camps, and using only the simplest of hand tools. Today, these lush forests appear entirely natural, and
the story of the laborers is largely invisible and forgotten.
The Laborers’ Banquet honors these unknown workers and celebrates the results of their efforts. In a forest clearing, visitors find a large banquet table built of tree stumps and rough planks. At each place setting, a weathered shovel blade is set into the table to create a shallow bowl.
The communal banquet table is a symbol of bounty and the fruits of cooperation. Even in difficult financial times, people find ways to celebrate as a community: everyone contributes what little they can, and together they create a feast. Likewise, many laborers together can transform a landscape.
Nowadays, these workers’ hardships and identities have faded into history; but their spirits remain, embedded in the revitalized landscape. When we walk through the reforested land, we reap the benefits of labor that occurred years ago. In gratitude, we can set a place at the table for these ghosts. The leaves, seeds, and rainwater that collect in the shovel-bowls represent the harvest of their labors.