Daughter carries on father's work with Sub Rosa Pantheon

Carol Mockbee in the SubRosa Pantheon
THOMAS SPENCER News staff writer
Publication Date: October 27, 2005

It was an unfinished puzzle that Samuel ''Sambo'' Mockbee left: the pieces scattered, the image only hinted at, the meaning unclear.
It was a mystery his daughter Carol Mockbee felt compelled to solve. When the Rural Studio lost its founder, she'd lost her father. As the Rural Studio tried to find direction, she was graduating from Auburn and looking for hers.
Which led her to Newbern and the taking up of her father's project: Sub Rosa Pantheon. Mockbee had envisioned a memorial to honor people who'd helped make the Rural Studio possible. Its completion has also become a memorial to him.
''Let's keep this sub rosa,'' Samuel ''Sambo'' Mockbee would tell his children conspiratorially. It's an obscure expression that has roots in ancient mythology. In Rome, chamber ceilings were sometimes hung with or decorated with roses. Roses symbolized secrecy. It meant what was said in the room stayed in the room.
Carol began with a site he'd chosen in Newbern and seven drawings he'd made in 1999 when the idea first occurred to him. She gathered references he made as his idea evolved, found sketches on cocktail napkins and midnight notes tucked away in books on his bedside table.
Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee
In addition to his architecture, Mockbee was an artist and he incorporated into Sub Rosa favorite totems from his art: sharpened sticks from beavers and alligator snapping turtles from the Black Warrior River, a kind of Deep South cosmology.
Even though her Auburn degree was in interior design, Carol Mockbee plunged into the Sub Rosa project, which required a complicated series of pours using 77 cubic yards of concrete, plus struggles with the water-retaining, red-dirt-gumbo soil of the Black Belt.
Sub Rosa is a sunken circular chamber, topped with a dome, open to the sky at its apex. In the center of the chamber is a turtle pond. The design does strange things with sound: Whispers travel in unlikely directions. Iron rods, which stand in for the beaver sticks, jut skyward and rings attached to them record the alignment of the constellations on the summer solstice. There are tricks of light and shadow. As the years pass, rose bushes will grow over all of it.
Light-hearted and irreverent, Carol has a spirit of mischief inherited from her father, according to Andrew Freear, the director of the Rural Studio. She also inherited her father's stubborn persistence, he added. Which will serve her well since, she has decided she wants to pursue an architecture degree.
Sub Rosa gave her a second chance to know her father, a fun-loving man who let his children draw on the walls.
''The family shared Sambo with us,'' Freear said. ''It was nice for her to be able to be here and see what he built.''