In Memory Of
Fine Arts Gallery Murrey State University, Murrey KY 1977
I was invited to do a show at Murray State’s Fine Arts Gallery. I was on the phone asking about the size of the room and where the electrical outlets were. When I was told every 10 feet apart in a grid pattern, I immediately had a vision of the show in every last detail, the poster, the title and the way it would look.
I put small goose neck--college dorm type lamps—at every outlet. I realized that it would look like a graveyard as well as an airport landing field. I wanted to put mementos of the dead in small plastic sleeves under each lamp. I asked friend if they had someone they wanted to remember. I was surprised by the stories and how differently people honored their dead.
Mike Fink, an art historian at RISD came by my house with his baby in his arms. I asked him if he had someone to remember and he pulled a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket. These are my mothers, she died several years ago. I asked my friend Ed Koren the cartoonist. He said yes and I followed him to his drafting table. With his pencils and pens he pulled out some dental tools. I said, ‘oh, do you use these in your work?’ He said no, that his father had been a dentist and he liked to keep his tools and memory close at hand. A wonderful black singer, Beryl Fears, had her sister to remember, she had been dosed in gasoline and lit on fire. I asked my mother if she had any one to remember and she said, ‘No, I don’t have any dead’. My father gave me pictures of his parent’s graves, as they were southerners, I put my black friends far away from them—placing the memories felt like organizing a dinner party.
For this installation I didn’t have any sound. The room was dark, large, and hushed. The lamps shown on the little plastic sleeves. People came in quietly knelt by the lamps and took out the mementos from the pouches and read them.
I moved back into my house in Providence as my husband was headed back to Rome to direct the European Honors Program for RISD. As he was sleeping with three of the students going with him, I had no interest in joining him. Dale Chihuley drove him into the airport as Hardu was getting into the car he yelled why don’t you come with me? Dale later would say to me, but he invited you, I heard it!
In order to afford the mortgage I rented out rooms. I had a guest room and an unheated attic. I understood that the right mix would be two women and one man and that three people would be ideal as two could interact when the third wanted to be quiet or alone. A young woman from a good Vermont family moved into the guest room bringing flowered curtains, bedspread, a soft arm chair, and TV. In the attic I always had a Jewish male student who would first secure a job in a RISD kitchen.
That first year we three adults were pretty quiet and concentrated, they on their studies, me on my work. In the Spring I asked them if they had anyone for my ‘In Memory Of’ show. __ said yes, then she told me about a man she had loved and had been engaged to. How he broke the engagement and moved away. She later found out that he had an incurable disease and didn’t want to cause her pain. Of course she was in huge pain and had been mourning that year. ----said he wanted to remember his father. His father had killed himself that year leaving four children and his wife. After his father died letters he had written to his business parted started being returned. The first letters were enthusiastic and hopeful, to paraphrase—“How are you doing? I’m so happy to be in business with you, what a great adventure we’re going to have. I know I haven’t heard from you because your busy setting up our venture” Then the last letters were desperate. “I’ve invested all my money in this project, my family’s security, all my friends and family have invested as well. I need to hear from you”. P. was devastated saying we as a family would have figured it out and forgiven him.
In the spring the three of us gave a party together. We were surprised to learn that we were all extroverted, that the past year had been one of mourning for each of us.