Thursday, August 27, 2009


If you look close you can see two figures, each carrying a book under their arm walking to the right.


Mary sent me some photos by email of what she has worked on. I am amazed and awed by her work. When ever I see what she has done it inspires me to work even harder. She is truly one of my muses and an incredibly talented artist.

She has created a series of trenches using staples, some new, some fading into the landscape....

on the other side small bones surface after trenches are reworked....

close up
All photos and artwork in this post property of Mary C. Leto © 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Mary and I decided that the book needed to have some facing pages that go together along with the individual pages we are creating. That made me think that maybe a line up of baby feet with toe tags would be a good idea for that, but I wasn't sure how I would accomplish it. I thought, when a baby dies it would have to go to the morgue first so I imagined a row of feet. But I did not want to put them in that sterile environment so instead I laid them out on the soil of Hart Island, the last bit of sun shining on the little bodies before they are placed into the ground. (I am taking artistic license, because they come to Hart Island in their little coffins, but this was just how I felt.) Under each pair of feet I put the place where the baby died, and on each toe tag their name and date of death. I used pastel chalk to create the sky, brushed all the dust off and sealed it with acrylic medium. I printed the feet on tracing paper and cut and pasted them onto the page. The IDs are jewelry tags.

According to historic records most of the people buried on Hart Island were of some christian denomination. So on the front side of the page I wanted to create a prayer for the dead. I used a St. Joseph's Missal and cut out passages including the mass for the dead pages, made them into little strips and glued them to the page in a circle pattern, constant cycle, flow, life. For these little babies their lives were cut short and some were stillborn, so I blew on red ink to symbolize the blood of childbirth. I thought of their little souls going to purgatory, not yet old enough to be baptized.

On the back side of the spread it was time for the burial. The shovel is a block print I created. I imagined the prisoners in their denim uniforms digging in the soil singing "Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot" (another area of artistic license) while they worked. This was a song that was very important to me as a child, but I don't know why or even where I learned it, or first heard it. (note: I just realized I made a mistake with the words, oops. It is supposed to read comin' for and I stamped coming forth. I am going to get some water and see if I can brush it out.)

Mary is working on her pages and we are hoping to get together very soon to start the cover and binding.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Last night we had another fine get together of art and eating. By fortunate coincidence my granddaughter happened to be here and she partakes in the event whole heartedly. Her oil pastel, a still life of corks, was amazing. At the end of the evening when we read our coffee fortunes she was instrumental in finding more imagery than we had imagined in each cup. My fellow prognosticator, Todd, was painting a beautiful miniature scene of Venice where he will be spending some time. Jake was quietly sketching, but the Yankee game playing in the background was a great distraction for him. (It lasted 5 hours and 33 minutes a total of 15 innings) The rest of us ignored it and worked on our projects. I wanted to continue with the "Domino Mystery" objects and so I chose my medium of oil pastels and colored pencils and started to transpose the tiny porcelain portrait on to a 4" x 4" canvas. In my head I am making up the story and so continues the gathering of evidence.....

Born in Ireland in 1801, in a small village on the west coast called Mulrany (Maoil Raithne, hill of ferns) on the Bay of Clew, where Irish is the predominate language, lived a young woman named Mary who was married to Cornelius Hart. Some of her children escaped the Great Hunger by securing passage to America. On the long voyage aboard the Arabella, leaving from Liverpool on May 14, 1846, her son, Patrick, carried her portrait with him. He never saw his poor mother again and so this little piece of clay was forever dear to his heart.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


This week I worked on the next set of pages for the artist book IN THE TRENCHES, Hart Island, New York that I am collaborating on with Mary C. Leto. I wish she could be here with me so that I can ask her if she likes this or that element as I am putting the pieces together.

On pages three and four I decided that I wanted to feel the perspective of the mother. Her baby has died and she has to tell the family, maybe they live far away as these baby names are from the 1800s. Maybe they immigrated from Norway, she had to hand write "the baby died of marasmus." (Marasmus is one component of protein-energy malnutrition.) I put three babies in the trench on the front and back side. I know... I know... they did not have photos like this in the 1800s, but I wanted some kind of keepsake photo to make the baby seem real. They are added on with old photo album corners. Each edition will have a different photo and each photo is hidden behind the overlay of blue rice paper.

I included a poem I wrote and hand typed on my old Royal typewriter. I like typing on it and making mistakes and having to backspace and XXX them out. Above the poem is an antique newsprint block of a baby's head that I just love. The other text is hand stamped with rubber stamp alphabet letters of the trench number that the babies are buried in and their names are printed under the overlay on the back side: Charles Dempson, James Fellows and Annie Riokence.

The front, page five, incorporates the idea of a bird. This symbol represents the freedom of release that death gives to the body for me. When my grandmother died and we all came home from her funeral as we walked in the door a bird flew in, circled the house once and flew out. When that happened I felt that my grandmother was making one farewell gesture before leaving us forever. I had this old newspaper that was from the 1940s, but it was celebrating a centennial and all the front pages of the sections included some 1800s date in bold type. I wanted to indicate the religious icon of a cross (as the policy of Hart Island is to bury whole bodies, not to cremate out of respect for the religious beliefs of those buried there) which was created by rolling on block printing ink. I used a gold wire to attach a different two sided catholic icon to each page.

On the back side, page 6, there are listed four baby's names: Ethel Ward, Francis Jones, John Moore and Nellie Hannan. Envisioning the children wrapped in muslin, I found some antique gauze that was very well preserved, so I made a figure and wrapped it up in the gauze, aged it with stamp pad ink and stitched it up to hold it all together. Dabbing some red ink on the area of the heart gave me the sense of sadness as when one says "my heart bleeds for you" and went along with the iconic religious theme of the other side (bleeding heart of jesus). The trench is more like a bed and the figure is removable. Also attached with a paper clip is the actual printout of one of the listed names from a copy of the ledger it was recorded in.

Note: I am indicating page numbers only to keep track of what I have done. Our assigned number is 16 each. When we get together next we will view all the pages and mix them accordingly.