The Doll’s Head Trail

A great piece of public art reflects community values and enhances its environment.  Normally, the viewer wants an installation that’s well maintained, expresses an ideal and is preferably shiny or bright. 

Moreover, the viewer wants art that presents an aesthetic, has an intellectual quality while not being brainy.  Art makes the viewer rub their chin and state, “That’s art.  It has a plaque with the artist’s name on it.”

However, let’s say the art is anonymous, weathered and capriciously assembled.  The art not only enhances the landscape but also comes from the space it occupies.  Furthermore, the artists seek a bizarro aesthetic that’s offbeat, witty and sometimes eerie.

The Doll’s Head Trail in Constitution Lakes Park embodies the latter sentiment.  The park is located near the Atlanta airport, in an industrial zone.  Therefore, on a Sunday, the area is desolate.  Driving to the park, empty truck bodies in need of repair and walls of shipping pallets create an inorganic, spiritless foreground. 

A deer in the woods staring at the camera.

Entering the park, a paved trail curves half a mile (.8km) from the gravel parking lot to the lakes.  Even though the park is in an industrial area, encountering a curious deer on the path gives a mutual feeling of “What are you doing here?” 

At the big lake, the trail connects to a boardwalk and observation deck.  The deck serves as a starting point for bird watchers looking for cranes and egrets.  Fishermen use the deck as well, hoping to land a bass or sunfish.

The boardwalk ends at a series of unpaved trails leading to Doll’s Head Trail, which arcs around the east end of the big lake. 

Even though the DeKalb County Parks and Recreation Authority calls the bodies of water lakes, they’re more marshy than a place for sunbathing.  They’re mosquito Petri dishes.  They have dank, gloppy shorelines.  Trees creep out of the brackish shallows.

As a result, the lakes create an ideal setting for the climax of a big-budget parody of a low-budget slasher film. 

Despite the lake’s horror film appeal, Constitution Lakes have played a major role in the chain of events that created Doll’s Head Trail. 

In the late 1800s, the very successful South River Brick Company dug two pits to excavate mud for their bricks.  For example, the City of Atlanta used South River bricks to build its sewer system in the 1890s.  However, ruthless price wars eventually forced South River to declare bankruptcy in 1909.

In the 1930s and 40s, two more brick companies attempted to kiln bricks on the land and failed miserably.  The excavation pits sat dormant, filling up from rainwater and the subsequent South River flooding.

In the 1960s, an African American family began a fishing operation out of the lake.  Racial tensions forced the fishing operation out of business in the late 60s when local whites burned down the fishing operation. 

While the land didn’t sit dormant after the arson, it wasn’t put to good use either.  Railroad companies that passed through the former South River Brick tracks used the land as a massive dump.  Moreover, drunks, junkies and dirt bike riders used the land as their secluded playground, adding to the trash heap.

However, in 2009, an unemployed carpenter named Joel Slaton began exploring Constitution Lakes out of boredom.  An insatiable tinkerer, Slaton started to build sculptures out of the doll heads and torsos, appliance scraps and car parts he found around the lake. 

Slaton continued to build pieces around the park, aware that he might be violating county trash ordinances.  However, in 2012 DeKalb County Parks and Recreation declared Doll’s Head Trail an official park exhibit. 

The project became a full-fledged clean up effort.  Slaton encouraged the volunteering artists and visitors to explore their creativity with the found trash/mediums.  As a result, while doll parts dominate the installations, empty bottles, scrapped fishing equipment and discarded sporting goods become art. 

Even though the artists have license to create as they see fit, Slaton has a few rules to preserve the trail’s integrity:

  • Only materials found at the nature preserve can be used for the displays.  Any outside or new materials will be thrown out. 
  • The art must be kid-friendly in content and construction.  No broken glass or jagged metal.
  • No graffiti. 
  • Respect the art that is already there.

Due to respecting the existing art, as you circle the 1.6 mile (2.6km) trail, you’ll find art becoming the environment.  Vines overgrow some pieces, fusing them into the landscape.  Discarded factory bricks carefully laid on a fallen tree meld into a single piece of organic and inorganic material.

Hiking the trail, you see pieces making political statements and social commentary. 

However, most of the pieces lean toward the comically absurd. 

Public art serves multiple purposes. However, great public art doesn’t need to be expensive, grand or call attention to the artist. 

Great public art humanizes the environment and invigorates the space it occupies.  Most importantly, great public art is interactive.  The art compels people to stop and look, maybe take a pic or selfie for their Instagram feed. 

The Doll’s Head trail adds the human touch to a previously forsaken man-made swamp.  Every piece along the trail came from efforts to clean up and revitalize the land. 

Paradoxically, the art stands out while simultaneously becoming part of its environment.  Even though the area around Constitution Lakes is desolate, Doll’s Head Trail reflects a community effort. 

Rating: 1 out of 5.

5 thoughts on “The Doll’s Head Trail

    1. Thank you for the reblog and thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you as well, a very driving post. Have a beautiful week. Michael

        Liked by 1 person

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