Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird

Petty’s Island is a tiny island situated in the middle of the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden. In 1850, Ralston Laird immigrated from Donegal to Philadelphia. Shortly after his arrival, he set off for Petty’s Island, where he married, had ten children, and declared himself King. The generous king helped several struggling immigrant families to also establish themselves on the island. Over fifty years later, the island was eyed for industrial development. The elderly King was the last to remain when a mysterious fire finally drove him from Petty’s Island.

Reclaiming The Lost Kingdom of Laird, (Installation View), Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 2010

Today, the island is a fuel storage facility owned by a Venezuelan oil company.
In April of 2009, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez offered to donate the island to the state of New Jersey for wildlife conservation. Details regarding the toxic waste cleanup are still being resolved between the two governments and the island remains off-limits to the public

Using the Pennsylvania Historical Society and the Internet, I tracked down and contacted all of the surviving descendants of the king, reestablished their royal status and minted a set of commemorative plates bearing their royal images. Artifacts from the site of the king’s former palace were also uncovered over the course of several unauthorized visits I made to the island.

Coincidentally, a group who identify themselves as the LKLA also permeated the island and painted a large-scale monument to Ralston Laird—the rightful King of Petty’s Island—atop one of CITGO’s remaining gas storage drums. It can only be viewed from satellite or aircraft, and from that vantage point, interestingly, bears a striking similarity to the Laird Family Royal commemorative plates.

I decided it only fair that Chavez be alerted that this once mighty kingdom is re-staking a claim on his land…

Installation Views

Process Views