Tuesday, June 06, 2017

White-Ellery House Full Report

The minute I walked into the White-Ellery House last fall to see Karen Battles and Lesley Lyman's wonderful installation, Here, Long Ago, I knew I wanted to create work for the space and was pleased to have been given the opportunity thanks to Leon Doucette of the Cape Ann Museum. As I've started to spend more time with words and calligraphy lately, I wanted that to be my focus. In a search for texts to use, I went to the Cape Ann Museum Archives. There were no writings from those who lived in the house itself, but, with the assistance of the archivists, I found two journals of Hannah S. Babson from 1847–1850. Hannah began writing in September 1847 when she was twelve years old and marked her thirteenth birthday on December seventh of that year. I read a few pages and felt I had found my source.

I photographed the pages of the journal with my iphone and then read through all the pages on my phone. It was handy to have them in a portable format but tedious to make my way through all the images, enlarging sections as I went. Luckily her handwriting was neat and fairly easy to read. I've enjoyed getting to know Hannah over the last few months. She mostly described the events of her days. She didn't write about her feelings, but she did express opinions about class assignments and sermons, music, and lectures she heard.

I then chose the passages to share and wrote them on index cards. I purchased 12"-wide white tracing paper rolls and metallic black (almost looks like graphite when written) Zig calligraphy markers from Nia at my favorite art store, Artist and Craftsman in Saugus, MA. It seemed complicated to try to figure out the lettering and hanging of the banners at the house and then work at home. I also thought it would be a more meaningful experience for me to do the lettering on site. On Thursday, June 1, my husband and I packed up paper, markers, wire, lights, and ladders and headed to Gloucester. I worked directly on the paper with no lines or sketches. I hesitate to share this picture of me doing nothing with my body that a calligraphy manual or my chiropractor would recommend, but here it is.

The house was open to the public on Saturday, June 3, from 11–3. There was a steady flow of visitors throughout the day. I had many interesting conversations. People were surprised at the richness of the cultural life in Gloucester at the time. Among other events, Hannah attended lectures by Thoreau and Emerson. One woman commented how much she liked reading the hand-lettered banners. She found herself reading more slowly and enjoying the experience. It was gratifying to hear and made me feel that all the work I did for just four hours of sharing was worth it.

I hadn't thought about the taking-down process and had no plan for what to do with the work after. I started by laying them in a pile.

I soon realized it would be very time-consuming to try to keep them from getting wrinkled. Since I had no idea what I would do with them after, I crumpled them up

and put them in a bag to take home for recycling.

I always talk about process being more important than product. Sometimes it's good to actually follow through on what we preach.

You can view photos of all the banners and get to know Hannah in my flickr album.

You can view Tom Robinson-Cox's evocative photos here

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