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.

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