July 10, 2014

Death Becomes Her

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a new exhibit will open in the Fall. Death Becomes Her  A Century of Mourning Attire

Deathbecomesher Exhpg

This Costume Institute exhibition will explore the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Approximately thirty ensembles, many of which are being exhibited for the first time, will reveal the impact of high-fashion standards on the sartorial dictates of bereavement rituals as they evolved over a century.

The thematic exhibition will be organized chronologically and feature mourning dress from 1815 to 1915, primarily from The Costume Institute's collection, including mourning gowns worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra. The calendar of bereavement's evolution and cultural implications will be illuminated through women's clothing and accessories, showing the progression of appropriate fabrics from mourning crape to corded silks, and the later introduction of color with shades of gray and mauve.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:26 PM | Permalink

June 10, 2014

Fascinating Forensic Facial Reconstructions

Forensic facial reconstruction using scans of skeletal remains allows researchers to create 3D models of the face through a combination of science, history, and artistic interpretation.    More at 10 Facial Reconstructions of Famous Historical Figures

 Dante Reconstruction Dante, a "face with character"

 Bach Facial Reconstruction  Bach, "the reconstruction’s friendly, confused stare lacks the soul of the real man … and his music.

 Shakespeare  Facial Reconstruction Shakespeare , "a sad, soulful face"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:23 PM | Permalink

Deaths by crinoline and gowns dyed with arsenic

201406100831

Deadly Victorian fashions by Anne Kingston in McLean's

The “arsenic” ball gown sits on a headless dressmaker’s form in the basement archives of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum as senior curator Elizabeth Semmelhack, wearing cotton conservators’ gloves, expounds upon its vintage (late 1860s), its provenance (Australia), its exquisite construction—and, most relevantly, its ability to kill. The green of the shimmering silk, now slightly faded, was one of the Victorian era’s most fashionable hues; people, mostly women, wore it even after it was widely known that the arsenic-based dye responsible for the colour could lead to horrible physical suffering and early death. When asked if the dress poses any danger still, Semmelhack pauses. “We’ve been counselled not to lick it,” she says, laughing.
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“Crinoline fires” killed 3,000 women between the late 1850s and late 1860s in England. Women would lose sense of their circumference, step too close to a fire grate, then flames would be fanned by oxygen circulating under their skirts. Until electricity, ballerinas also routinely perished when the muslin of their tutus met gas lamps; the deaths were referred to at the time as the “holocaust of ballet girls.” (The remedy, flame-retardant fabrics, was seen by many as too ugly to wear.)

You can see for yourself at the exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. The show opens June 18 and runs through 2016 at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:38 AM | Permalink

Murder miniatures, nutshell dioramas of death

Murder in Miniature by Rachel Nuwer in Slate
One woman’s ghastly dollhouse dioramas turned crime scene investigation into a science.

 Diorama Bedroom Crime Scene

Dorothy’s deathscape—dubbed the Parsonage Parlor—is one of 20 dollhouse crime scenes built by a woman named Frances Glessner Lee, nicknamed “the mother of forensic investigation.” Lee’s murder miniatures and pioneering work in criminal sciences forever changed the course of death investigations.

Lee, who went by the name Fanny, was born in 1878 to millionaire parents who made their money selling agricultural equipment. She grew up in Chicago and later said she suffered from a sheltered, lonely childhood. When Lee was 4 years old, her mother—also named Frances—recorded in her diary that her daughter had stated, “I have no company but my doll baby and God.” Along with her older brother, she was home-schooled in a fortresslike house that one architect described as “pathologically private.” Lee learned feminine skills such as sewing, embroidery, painting, and the art of miniatures from her mother and aunts, but at the same time had a fondness for Sherlock Holmes stories and medical texts….

After her brother left for Harvard University, Lee’s requests to also attend school were rebuffed. As her father liked to say, “A lady doesn’t go to school.”

She wasn't allowed to attend school …shortly before her 21st birthday, she married Blewett Lee, a lawyer and professor at Northwestern University. The couple had three children, but things soon fell apart and they divorced in 1914..
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Despite being free of an unhappy marriage, years passed before Lee could truly come into her own. She was dependent on her family for financial support, but in 1929, that began to change. Her brother passed away, and a few years later her mother followed him to the grave. In 1936, her father died, passing on the family fortune to his daughter.

Lee, meanwhile, had begun nursing a passion for forensics, inspired by one of her brother’s friends, George Burgess Magrath, who served as Boston’s medical examiner and was famously skilled at solving perplexing murder cases of the day….

Lee decided to take it upon herself to reform the country’s legal medicine system. As a start, she donated money to Harvard to create a professorship for a legal medicine expert—which Magrath filled—and also created the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine, which was soon followed by the country’s first forensic pathology program….

Despite these successes, however, Lee felt that more was needed to teach students the emerging art of evidence gathering. It was impossible to bring them to crime scenes, so Lee decided to create her own miniature crime scenes to use for training. She called her creations the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. “She came up with this idea, and then co-opted the feminine tradition of miniature-making to advance in this male-dominated field,” ….

The 20 models Lee created were based on actual crime scenes, and she chose only the most puzzling cases in order to test aspiring detectives’ powers of observation and logic.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:27 AM | Permalink

June 5, 2014

`The Broken Conversation We Call Prayer'

Patrick Kurp writes 'The Broken Conversation We Call Prayer' and in it introduces a new poet to me, Margaret Preston.

Preston continued writing into the late 1880s, when she became blind. Her husband died in 1890 and she followed in 1897. In her life is distilled the life of the divided nation, with her roots in the North and South, and so much death by war and otherwise….

One of those poems, also titled “Crossing the Pedregal,” is also spoken by a woman left behind – Mary Custis Lee to her husband, Gen. Lee, in the final days of the war. In the poem, Preston is writing on July 21, 1891. Her final lines transcend American history and speak for all who are humanly frail:

“When I was small I thought perhaps there was
A place of rest for us sometime, somewhere,
Where no one called and no one cried aloud.
I sometimes thought of death as offering that.
Your God is still my God and yet his Son,
Merciful and forgiving, now eludes me.
My sins are manifold. I feel myself
Exemplary of the seven and faith a state
I must remake each day, never a fixed
And steadfast thing like Thomas’s or yours.
As each sense fails, my consciousness narrows.
A deep fear comes and not a childhood dream.
I am not ready for my death. I fear
My fear’s betrayal of my long-held faith.
Nor is there anyone to comfort me,
Unless, in some form God shapes for our souls
I trust that you are here, that I am heard,
In the broken conversation we call prayer.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:19 PM | Permalink

The 'weird liveliness" of the death mask

In the Atlantic, Impressions from the Face of a Corpse by Luke Fidler The death mask’s uncanny capacity for portraiture, an Object Lesson

When the curators of Stanford University’s art museum asked Darren Waterston to make art from their collection, he fixed on the bone-white death mask of Leland Stanford Jr. Along with their millions, the Stanfords had left their faces to the university. Taken with the death mask, Waterston made it the subject of his 2009 exhibition Splendid Grief. His paintings, sculptures, and wallpaper designs responded as much to the mask’s aesthetic properties as its crystallization of grief.

The death mask is something between a creepy portrait and a contact relic. I shiver each time I brush one, for no matter my scholarly remove I can’t help but feel the presence of the dead under my fingertips. For inert matter, especially matter that speaks so stridently of death, the death mask trades on a weird liveliness. It’s an uncanny object, one that spurs us to reconsider the matter of portraiture and commemoration…..

The death mask became popular thanks to the assumption that it was a portrait par excellence. … Others, often relatives of the deceased, railed against death masks as grotesque perversions of portraiture. ….

Beethoven’s death mask, taken two days after he died, shows the saw marks where the composer’s ear bones were removed. His left ear later wound up in a curiosity cabinet.


 Deathmask-BeethovenBeethoven's death mask
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:26 AM | Permalink

March 8, 2014

"Memory Wound"

 Norwegian Memorial Victims Brevik

Memorial to mark where Anders Breivik ‘left a scar on humanity’ by carving three-metre channel through island where he slaughtered 69 youths

The July 22 terror attacks killed eight in a bombing at the government headquarters in Oslo and 69 people, mostly teenagers, were murdered by Anders Breivik in a shooting spree at a youth camp organised by Norway’s social-democratic Arbeiderpartiet.

Artist Jonas Dahlberg's Memory Wound will be a 3.5metre (11ft 6in) channel cut in the mainland facing Utøya, creating a 'physical wound' in the landscape.

The excavation will represent the physical experience of something being taken and 'reflect the abrupt and permanent loss of those who died on Utøya'.  The 3.5metre wide gap will have the names of all 77 victims, both Oslo and Utøya, engraved on its sides.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 AM | Permalink

January 23, 2014

From Ashes to Diamonds

For some years now, companies have offered to turn the ashes of a beloved into a diamond.  From Ashes To Ashes To Diamonds: A Way To Treasure The Dead, a story from NPR, explains the process.

 Blue Diamonds


Diamonds are supposed to be a girl's best friend. Now, they might also be her mother, father or grandmother.

Swiss company Algordanza takes cremated human remains and — under high heat and pressure that mimic conditions deep within the Earth — compresses them into diamonds.

Rinaldo Willy, the company's founder and CEO, says he came up with the idea a decade ago. Since then, his customer base has expanded to 24 countries.  Each year, the remains of between 800 and 900 people enter the facility. About three months later, they exit as diamonds, to be kept in a box or turned into jewelry.

Most of the orders Algordanza receives come from relatives of the recently deceased, though some people make arrangements for themselves to become diamonds once they've died. Willy says about 25 percent of his customers are from Japan.

At between $5,000 and $22,000, the process costs as much as some funerals. The process and machinery involved are about the same as in a lab that makes synthetic diamonds from other carbon materials.

The basic process reduces the ash to carbon, then slides it into a machine that applies intense heat and pressure — for weeks. That's at least several hundred million years faster than diamonds are made in nature
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It only takes about a pound of ashes to make a single diamond, Willy says. His company has created up to nine diamonds from one individual's ashes.
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Most of the stones come out blue, Willy says, because the human body contains trace amounts of boron, an element that may be involved in bone formation. "I don't know why, but if the diamond is blue, and the deceased also had blue eyes, I hear almost every time that the diamond had the same color as the eyes of the deceased," says Willy, who personally delivers the diamonds to his Swiss customers.

Each time, he says, the family is happy that their loved one has, in a sense, returned home. And in sparkling form to boot.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:13 PM | Permalink

Memorial gifts

Weighing In at the End

 Weight-Of-A-Soul

Three-Fourths of an Ounce, a new line of condolence products including memorial candles and jewelry, is named after measurements taken by the early 1900s Massachusetts doctor Duncan MacDougall. After studying terminally ill people and euthanized dogs, he concluded that a body lost three-quarters of an ounce at the moment of death, so a soul must weigh that much. (Scientists, however, have since discredited his methods and data.)

The designer Ted Muehling has contributed polished quartz ovals ($200 each) that weigh, yes, 0.75 ounces. His staff grinds the stones at a workshop behind his Manhattan boutique, on machines with wet sandpaper wheels that emit mournful sounds as they spin. Mr. Muehling, who was brought up Catholic, said the translucent stones remind him of his childhood image of the soul as an internal vapor that grows cloudier with every sin. The polished talismans are also ecumenically reminiscent of crystal orbs that Buddhist temple statues carry and pebbles that Jews place on gravestones.

Website 3-4oz.com.

I think this stone is beautiful.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:02 PM | Permalink

January 8, 2014

Giving Death Its Due

Carl Trueman in First Things writes Dylan Thomas and Giving Death Its Due

Thomas was indeed a remarkable talent. At age nineteen, he penned the magnificent and defiant ‘And death shall have no dominion.’ The imagery and the simple power of the form are stunning; that it was written by a man yet to reach adulthood is a source of envy to those of us who are mere mortal……And yet, for all of the maturity of the poetry, the sentiment is unmistakably that of a young man: The defiance of death has that naive, exultant quality, reveling in the fact that death may take the body but it cannot break the soul.
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Thomas wrote perhaps his most famous poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ His father was dying and, touched by mortality in a way that becomes unavoidable as one ages, Thomas’s defiance here is somewhat different.  In this poem, death does have a certain dominion. The only response is to rage, rage against the dying of the light.  Faced with the reality of death, there is no romantic heroism left beyond that offered by the ultimately impotent shaking of a fist before the coming silent darkness.
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 Dylan Thomas

Finally, when Thomas himself died, one of the unfinished poems he left behind was ‘Elegy,’ a gloomy reflection upon his father’s death which begins with the haunting lines:

Too proud to die, broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away
A cold kind brave in his narrow pride

There is no hint of triumph here and no defiant anger either. Just a feeling of resignation. His attitude to death has altered.
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Thomas closed ‘Elegy’ with the moving—and in my experience truthful lines—about his dead father: ‘Until I die he will not leave my side.’ These were perhaps the last lines he ever wrote. After all, one does not ‘come to terms’ with a beloved father’s death; one simply learns to live in the bleak presence of his absence.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

December 25, 2013

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish - which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,

So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St.Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):

So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By "eightieth" meaning whichever is last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
T.S. Eliot
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:39 PM | Permalink

October 30, 2013

Bejeweled Saints

 Bejewelled St Coronatus

The Fantastically Bejeweled Skeletons of Catholicism’s Forgotten Martyrs

Paul Koudounaris is not a man who shies away from the macabre. Though the Los Angeles-based art historian, author and photographer claims that his fascination with death is no greater than anyone else’s, he devotes his career to investigating and documenting phenomena such as church ossuaries, charnel houses and bone-adorned shrines. Which is why, when a man in a German village approached him during a 2008 research trip and asked something along the lines of, “Are you interested in seeing a dilapidated old church in the forest with a skeleton standing there covered in jewels and holding a cup of blood in his left hand like he’s offering you a toast?” Koudounaris’ answer was, “Yes, of course.”

At the time, Koudounaris was working on a book called The Empire of Death, traveling the world to photograph church ossuaries and the like. He’d landed in this particular village near the Czech border to document a crypt full of skulls, but his interest was piqued by the dubious yet enticing promise of a bejeweled skeleton lurking behind the trees. “It sounded like something from the Brothers Grimm,” he recalls. “But I followed his directions—half thinking this guy was crazy or lying—and sure enough, I found this jeweled skeleton in the woods.”

Koudounaris could not get the figures’ twinkling eyes and gold-adorned grins out of his mind. He began researching the enigmatic remains, even while working on Empire of Death. The skeletons, he learned, were the “catacomb saints,” once-revered holy objects regarded by 16th- and 17th-century Catholics as local protectors and personifications of the glory of the afterlife. Some of them still remain tucked away in certain churches, while others have been swept away by time, forever gone. Who they were in life is impossible to know. “That was part of this project’s appeal to me,” Koudounaris says. “The strange enigma that these skeletons could have been anyone, but they were pulled out of the ground and raised to the heights of glory.

Via Tom McDonald at Patheos

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:27 PM | Permalink

July 11, 2013

Bride and Tomb

Bride and tomb: The 1,500-year-old murals discovered buried with Chinese warlord and his wife that have been impeccably preserved

Stunning murals estimated to be nearly 1,500-years-old have been discovered buried with a Chinese warlord and his wife.

The orate drawings were painted on the wall of a doomed tomb in Shuozhou City, about 200 miles (330 kilometres) southwest of Beijing.

Their original colours are largely preserved - the murals are in a remarkable condition given their age.

 Bride And Tomb

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:28 AM | Permalink

June 22, 2013

Conveying a Child's Coffin

Conveying A Child's Coffin, 1879 Albert Edelfelt
Conveying a Child's Coffin , 1879 by Albert Edelfelt, a Swedish-speaking Finnish painter

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:47 PM | Permalink

June 18, 2013

Portraits of Things to show a Life in Objects

This is a wonderful idea for your Personal Legacy Archives.  What portraits could you make of your parents, your children or yourself?

A life in objects: Family ‘portraits’ capture the essence of a loved one by picturing their most treasured possessions

You can tell a lot by looking at someones possessions - personality, interests, likes and passions.

One Italian photographer has decided to paint a portrait of her family, but instead of using actual photographs of her relatives, we are left to imagine how they might appear based on what they own. From leather satchels and handkerchiefs to blocks of cheese and cookware, Florence-based artist Camilla Catrambone's family album is curiously captivating.

 Lives In Their Objects

The series is simply titled 'Portraits of my Family,' and displays a whole host of everyday treasures.

'I‘ve always been fascinated by objects, and I think somehow every person is represented by their personal objects, the objects they choose, the ones they are attached to, and the way they use them tells you a story,' Ms Catrambone states on her website.

'When I started doing this project, I felt that the objects belonged to my relatives, starting from the ones of my beloved grandparents, were still full of energy and were capable of reminding me moments I shared with them. I started to feel the need to use them to go back to a precise memory. In order to do that I started to reorganize these objects, to recall a specific image I had of that person.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:32 PM | Permalink

April 25, 2013

Don't forget

 David Shrigley GravestoneThe Artist David Shrigley , 2013 Turner Prize Nominee

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

March 21, 2013

The Deposition: A Maelstrom of Grief

A Maelstrom of Grief

Il Rosso Fiorentino's hands-down masterpiece, a 12-foot-tall "Deposition" painted in 1521, is located somewhat pleasantly off the beaten track in the Tuscan hilltop town of Volterra. It's an easy day trip from either Siena or Florence. The arch-topped painting resides in the quiet Pinacoteca Comunale, which even in the summer, when tourists wander around Volterra, can seem deserted. For a work of art almost half a millennium old, however, it's shockingly modern. The phrase that surprisingly popped into my head when I first saw it was "WPA mural." But the little interior voice murmuring those words to me meant them as a compliment. Let me explain….

The Deposition in full resolution

           Rosso Fiorentino Deposition

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:42 PM | Permalink

February 18, 2013

All is Vanity

 All Is Vanity C.Allen Gilbert
All is Vanity by C. Allan Gilbert

From Wikipedia

Charles Allan Gilbert (September 3, 1873 – April 20, 1929), better known as C. Allan Gilbert, was a prominent American illustrator. He is especially remembered for a widely published drawing (a memento mori or vanitas) titled All Is Vanity. The drawing employs a double image (or visual pun) in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror, when viewed from a distance, appears to be a human skull. The title is also a pun, as this type of dressing-table used to be called a vanity. It is less widely known that Gilbert was an early contributor to animation, and a camouflage artist  for the U.S. Shipping Board during World War I.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:40 PM | Permalink

February 11, 2013

"Neither living here, nor dead here"

 Neque Illic Mortuus

Detail of Gisleni’s grave in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome Via Mme Scherzo

From the Churches of Rome Wiki
To the left of the main door is the tomb of Giovanni Battista Gisleni, died 1672. He was a Baroque architect who was born and died in Rome, but did much work in Poland. He designed his memorial himself in 1670. It is a macabre piece, but great fun also. At the top is his portrait in a tondo, above a long memorial inscription. Below the latter is a skeleton wrapped in a shroud "facing"  the viewer, above which are two bronze medallions which demonstrate a hope in the resurrection. The left hand one shows a tree with its branches pruned but sprouting new shoots and containing an empty nest, while the right hand one shows the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a moth. Both of these are symbols of death in this world, and new life in the next. The left hand one says In nidulo meo moriar ("in my nest I die" -a reference to his dying in Rome after a long expatriate career), while the right hand one says Ut phoenix multiplicabo dies ("as a phoenix I multiply [my] days"). Below the portrait it says Neque hic vivus, and under the skeleton it says Neque illic mortuus; together this means "Neither living here, nor dead there".

 Gisleni Tomb "Neither living here, nor dead here"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:22 AM | Permalink

February 10, 2013

Detail of tomb of King Louis XII

 Detail Tomb Louisxii Anne De Bretange
Detail of the tomb of King Louis XII and Anne de Bretange via Mme Scherzo

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:34 PM | Permalink

January 15, 2013

An angel and a skeleton

 Memorial To James Lenox Dutton
Memorial to James Lenox Dutton, died 1776

Bill Jewitt took this photo in Sherborne, Gloucestershire, England.  Via Madame Scherzo

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:50 PM | Permalink

July 4, 2012

The Kiss of Death

 Kiss-Of-Death

In Barcelona's Poblenou Cemetery, Eugene of My Modern Met, captures this magnificent sculpture and the story behind it..

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:14 AM | Permalink

November 2, 2011

All Souls Day

Tradition is that Faure's Requiem is performed on All Souls Day, November 2.  Tonight I am going to hear the Boston Boys' Choir and the Men's Schola sing Faure's Requiem at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge. 

It is heavenly music.

Here is the Kings College Choir singing Pie Jesu and Agnes Dei from the Requiem

More from the Requiem, "In Paradisum"

from a Concert in Berne, May 2007, Agata Mazurkiewicz, conductor, Choir Konzertverein Bern, Berne Chamber Orchestra.

Insight Scoop traces All Souls Day

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once said so well, one major difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics pray for the dead:

"My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it." Why?

"Because few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread—at all times and in all cultures—as prayer for one"s own departed dear ones." Calvin, the Reformer of Geneva, had a woman whipped because she was discovered praying at the grave of her son and hence was guilty, according to Calvin, of superstition". "In theory, the Reformation refuses to accept Purgatory, and consequently it also rejects prayer for the departed. In fact German Lutherans at least have returned to it in practice and have found considerable theological justification for it. Praying for one's departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed; it is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death. The happiness or unhappiness of a person dear to me, who has now crossed to the other shore, depends in part on whether I remember or forget him; he does not stop needing my love.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:39 AM | Permalink

October 3, 2011

"Our artists are content to give us hell"

When I first visited the new ICA museum in Boston, there was an exhibit by new British painters, one of whom had as part of a painting, a sign saying, "Down with Beauty", that stopped me in my tracks.  I was stunned that any artist could say that and then filled with pity for the artist who did say that.    No doubt it was meant to be challenging.

Christopher Haley has  this to say about The Challenge of Art

when I asked her why on earth I should pay good money to go and have my views challenged by a playwright—well, she hadn’t thought of that. And people wonder why the arts are suffering.
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The notion that the artist’s role is to challenge the audience is offensive to the audience. It is arrogant and condescending. Learning how to paint, sculpt, write, or compose, does not make one a moral authority on art or anything else. There is no moral value in being transgressive for the sake of transgressiveness.
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The real challenge of art is something immeasurably greater. The challenge of art is beauty. And the challenge of beauty is truth. Truth is challenging. But it is also inviting. It is also glorious and liberating. Truth is wondrous, not scandalous.
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in great art, when Dante gives us Hell, he also leads us through Purgatory and into Paradise. It is precisely this which is lacking in art today. Our artists are content to give us hell.

"Dear Artists, You Are the Custodians of Beauty" proclaimed Pope Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel as he addressed representatives of all the arts: painters, sculptors, architects, novelists, poets, musicians, singers, men of the cinema, theater, dance, photography 

At this gathering I wish to express and renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art, a friendship that has been strengthened over time; indeed Christianity from its earliest days has recognized the value of the arts and has made wise use of their varied language to express her unvarying message of salvation.
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an essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy "shock", it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum – it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it "reawakens" him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft. Dostoevsky’s words that I am about to quote are bold and paradoxical, but they invite reflection. He says this: "Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here."
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Too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding, leaving the onlooker dazed; instead of bringing him out of himself and opening him up to horizons of true freedom as it draws him aloft, it imprisons him within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy. It is a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess, and to dominate others, it is a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation.
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You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. Be grateful, then, for the gifts you have received and be fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty! Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity!
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:23 PM | Permalink

June 8, 2011

Mourning Picture

"Mourning Picture"

The artist Edwin Elmer painted this "Mourning Picture" after his nine-year-old daughter died of appendicitis.

A surreal remembrance, taut with grief

The force of the loss overwhelmed Mary. Intent on abandoning the house, the couple packed up Effie’s toys and gave away her pets.

Presumably, they were trying to forget — or at least to escape the clutch of the memories the house and Effie’s belongings all held. But before they left, Elmer felt he needed also to remember. (The lurching human soul forever contradicting itself!) So he painted this strange, haunted picture, which seems stretched so tight that it might crumble at the slightest touch.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:35 AM | Permalink

June 6, 2011

Abide with Me

Abide with Me, a Hymn to share with the dying by Msgr Charles Pope.

The author, Henry Francis Lyte  (1793-1847) was an Anglican pastor in Devonshire England, for 23 years.  In 1844, Three years before his death Lyte was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Despite this, he continued to work hard and was known to say, “It is better to wear out, than to rust out.” But his physical condition continued to deteriorate, until finally on September 4, 1847, at 54 years of age, he stood in his pulpit to deliver his farewell message. It is said, He was so weak that he almost crawled to the pulpit.

Later that day he retired to his room and wrote the words to this hymn: Abide With Me, as he meditated on the death he knew would soon approach. Advised by doctors to leave the cold, damp, coastal weather of England, he left for the Mediterranean. He died en route. A fellow clergyman who was with Henry during his final hours reported that Henry’s last words were: “Peace! Joy!”

Abide With Me was set to music by William H. Monk (1823-1889), and was played at Henry Lyte’s funeral service.

I have, when the situation was right, shared this him with the dying. Not all have fully accepted that they are dying, but for those who have reached the stage of acceptance, and when death seems certain, this hymn is very powerful, personal and poignant.

Read the whole thing because Msgr Pope explicates each the verses in this hymn to  to pray for and with the dying.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2011

Anthropologist visits Roman graves

John Hawkes visits Rome, the graves of John Keats and his friend Joseph Severn, the National Etruscan Museum and the Capuchin Crypt and writes rom an interesting perspective, Death and the Anthropologist .

It is not the distance of time that touches me about these people. I study bones that are tens or hundreds of thousands of years old, distances so vast as to be unimaginable in human terms. Yet the bone persists. The individual is marked in it, and touching her bones creates an immediacy of connection, like traveling through time.
--
Just past the fountain is the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Beneath the church, but a climb of steps above the street, is the famous Capuchin Crypt. In a few rooms are the bones of many hundreds of brothers of the Capuchin order. These bones were disinterred and arranged as a kind of contemplative art upon the walls of the crypt.


 Capuchin Crypt
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:35 PM | Permalink

May 14, 2011

How Pocahontas became Lady Rebecca of Virginia

She studied Christianity, converted and was baptized Rebecca before she married John Rolfe.

Two years later Rolfe, Pocahontas and their son, Thomas, plus 12 Indians went to England where she was received as a lady and was presented to Queen Anne as "Lady Rebecca of Virginia."  While preparing to return to America, she got small pox and died.  She was buried in England with this plaque, "Rebecca Rolfe of Virginia, Lady Born."  There is a statue of her there and a copy of it is in Jamestown. John Rolfe returned to Jamestown to build up his plantation and was killed by Pocahontas' uncle in 1622.  Their son, Thomas, returned to America in 1635, married and had 12 children.  These descendants married into Virginia families and some eventually served in the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

 Pocahontas Malick

The Unknown Story of Pocahontas

Pocahontas is the tale of a heroine, a child who exhibited moral courage and independence, a child who went against everything she'd been taught all her life in favor of the convictions of her own mind, thus proving that one's race does not have to determine one's culture or destiny. Her bravery was a great and crucial help to the survival of the colony at Jamestown and she deserves to be remembered as a part of our country's legacy..


Forget the Disney versions, see the luminously told story by Terence Malick in the film The New World, starring Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer and Q'orianka Kilcher seen in the photo above.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:13 AM | Permalink

January 10, 2011

Studding a baby's skull with diamonds

Dead baby's skull used as "Art"

At its best, art expresses a culture’s best virtues, greatest beauty. But these days, art is more often lauded–or at least given attention–if it is unintelligible, pornographic, subversive, disrespectful, and/or denigrates cherished values or religious traditions. One such value is the respectful way in which dead human bodies are supposed to be treated. We respect the dead because it is a way of respecting the lives that were lived in those bodies, and more broadly, the importance of being human.

--

When human bodies are plasticized and put on display as if they were having sexual intercourse, and a baby’s skull is studded with diamonds, it isn’t art. It is a nihilistic and decadent disrespect for the dead–which in a sense, means all of us, since we are all headed in the same direction–that speaks, I fear, of a deepening darkness in the culture.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:48 AM | Permalink

November 17, 2010

The Poet Undertaker

A lovely piece at The New Old Age at The New York Times, A Poet Well Versed in Grief about Thomas Lynch, the poet undertaker.

Born to a family who ran a funeral home in small-town Michigan, the poet Thomas Lynch began pondering aging and death at a young age, as a child leafing through the gory pages of his father’s mortician texts.

“A lot of 15-year-olds think they’re going to live forever,” he said. “But when I was 15, I sort of knew I wasn’t, because I spent a lot of time at the funeral home.
Here is the title poem from his newly-published collection
I say clean your plate and say your prayers,
go out for a long walk after supper
and listen for the voice that sounds like you
talking to yourself, you know the one:
contrapuntal, measured to footfall, true
to your own metabolism. Listen –
inspiration, expiration, it’s all the same,
the sigh of creation and its ceasing -
whatever’s going to happen’s going to happen


"Walking Papers: Poems" (Thomas Lynch)

I've been posting about Thomas Lynch for years now in The Calling of a Funeral Director

The generation today bringing loved ones to funeral homes is the first generation, he said, that tries to get past grieving by not having a body at a funeral. He believes this carries the risk of spiritual and emotional peril.

and Going the Distance

The good death, good grief, good funerals come from keeping the vigils, from bearing our burdens honorably, from honest witness and remembrance. They come from going the distance with the ones we love.

I quite enjoyed his first book about the 'dismal trade'.


"The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade" (Thomas Lynch)


Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:36 PM | Permalink

November 11, 2010

The last night of their lives

From the 1989 movie Glory, the splendid story of a young Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw who leads the Massachusetts 54th regiment, the first all-black volunteer army, into battle for Union in the Civil War.

Across the street from the State House in Boston is the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, a stunning bas-relief by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

-Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:43 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2010

Writing, not closure

As recounted in the Wall Street Journal in The Lady and the Playwright, when Lady Antonia Fraser met Harold Pinter, she said

"Wonderful play, marvelous acting," she told Pinter. "Now I'm off."


"He looked at me with those amazing, extremely bright black eyes. 'Must you go?' he said. I thought of home, my lift, taking the children to school the next morning . . . my projected biography of King Charles II. 'No, it's not absolutely essential.'"


So began a 33-year marriage of true minds that ended with Pinter's death from cancer on Christmas Eve in 2008, at the age of 78.

--

An inveterate journal-keeper for more than 40 years, Lady Antonia began work on "Must You Go" a month after Pinter died. "I never intended to publish it. It wasn't written for that reason," she said, drinking coffee in the lobby alcove of her midtown hotel after an early morning swim.

--

"The whole thing, including the title, came into my head like that. It was an act of love and remembrance, really, a book of celebration at a time of such tremendous grief," continued Lady Antonia, 78, who has a posh, creamy voice you must sometimes bend close to hear and who has a manner that is equal parts grand and grandmotherly. "It was a very surprising thing for me to do because I'm not a very candid person, and I don't believe I would or could write it now. It was the effect of grief."

She doesn't think much of closure.

Closure? She recoils at the word and the notion. "Thank you very much. No closure," she said tartly. "I don't want closure in stopping mourning. I don't want it to stop. But it is the oddest thing when something happens and I think 'I must tell Harold.'


"And I can't."



"Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter" (Antonia Fraser)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:53 PM | Permalink

Portrait of Grief

Mother Grieving Nationalgeo
In Goma Sushitsa, Bulgaria, a mother grieves over a picture of her late son.


From National Geographic's Greatest Portraits

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

November 1, 2010

Lights Out

Via Brits at their Best, comes this poem by Edward Thomas, born in 1878 who was killed in action at the Battle of Arras in 1917.

I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.

Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter, and leave, alone,
I know not how.

The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:04 AM | Permalink

April 30, 2010

You Don't Know Jack "An exercise in moral botox"

I've always thought of Jack Kevorkian as a moral creep and a murderer so I wasn't planning on watching the HBO show even if Al Pacino plays him in You Don't Know Jack.      Mary Eberstadt calls it "an exercise in moral botox".

Finally, a Hollywood offering that even the most cynical critic could not possibly have made up: a multimillion dollar commercial catapult aimed at hurling into the progressive pantheon one of its most macabre demigods ever -- a convicted murderer and "assistant" to the deaths of more than 100 people, whose early enthusiasms included siphoning blood from corpses into living humans and experimenting with the eyeballs of the dying and dead; whose public statements about the uselessness of the sick amount to Goebbels Lite; and whose artistic offerings include subjects like decapitation and a child eating the flesh off a decomposing corpse. Did we mention that Kevorkian sometimes painted with his own blood?

Yes, that is just part of the record now being scrubbed clean by "You Don't Know Jack," a gorgeously shot HBO movie about Doctor Death directed by the exquisitely acute Barry Levinson, written by the able Adam Mazer, and featuring the incomparable Al Pacino with an all-star backup -- virtually every member of which is a Hollywood progressive in fine standing.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:50 AM | Permalink

April 16, 2010

Beautiful Mourning

From the WSJ, Beautiful Mourning by Tom Freudheim, a review of "The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mourner 1

A group of modestly sized (c. 15-inch-high) alabaster figures ripped from their context—the tomb of John the Fearless (reigned 1404-19)—seems barely enough to constitute a major exhibition. Yet this grouping casts a magic spell that is as sublime and compelling as anything you are likely to encounter in any museum this season.
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Mourner 2

As displayed in the Dijon museum, the mourning figures are in their original position—delicately carved gothic niches, which support the effigy of John the Fearless lying above. With only the figures to display, the Met has created an incredibly moving funeral procession that suggests the universality of the mourning mode. The small alabaster figures here attain a stunning monumentality and convey a variety of emotions that force us to contemplate the meanings in their various attitudes.
--

Mourner 3

The power of the installation, set in the midst of the Met's majestic medieval courtyard, makes it hard not to get drawn into the sadness, even if we're totally disconnected from the actual subject of this mourning—that is, the death of John the Fearless.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:32 PM | Permalink

March 15, 2010

Momento Mori

Le Transi De Ren De Chalon Ligier R

I found this striking image at the Crescat, Prince of Orange, René de Chalons, died in battle in 1544, at age 25. His widow commissioned the sculptor Ligier Richier to represent him offering his heart to God, set against the painted splendour of his former worldly estate. Church of Saint-Étienne, Bar-le-Duc.

She is one of those Morbid Catholics and declares
Catholicism is the punk rock of religions. The Church is fearless in Her embrace of death. We love our relics, cherish our martyrs, talk to the dead and pray for a happy death!

Momento Mori is the Latin phrase translated as 'Remember you must die'.  It also names an entire genre of art most often found in cemeteries that reminds people of their own mortality and short time here on earth.  There is a subgenre called Vanitas to describe a still life featuring symbols of mortality and often including a skull.  Below is Vanitas by Phillipe de Champaigne symbolizing Life, Death and Time.

300Px-Stilllifewithaskull

"Remember you must die", momento mori is one of those universal spiritual truths that we all know and too often forget.    "Keep death daily before you," urges the Rule of St. Benedict.  In the HBO series Six Feet Under, Nate Fisher runs the family funeral home with his brother after his father is killed by a bus.  Nate, who never wanted to go into the family business, is asked by a grief-stricken woman whose aunt , the only person who truly loved her, died in a freak accident, "Why do people have to die?"  Nate is silent than says poignantly., "To make life important."

The key to living life intensely is to keep the awareness before us as much as we can.  You can even have a momento mori on your iPhone.    It's called  Vanitas and I have it.

 Vanitas-Iphone

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:00 AM | Permalink

March 14, 2010

"Ain't No Grave"

Daniel Kalder reviews the new CD Johnny Cash-American VI: Ain't No Grave

Well there ain’t no grave
Gonna hold my body down
Well there ain’t no grave
Gonna hold my body down
When I hear that trumpet sound
I’m gonna get up out of the ground


The song mixes defiance with a joyful declaration that death is not the end. And it is this bedrock of faith, of an elemental Christianity that liberates Cash from fear and informs the rest of the album. This is the sound of a man at peace with himself, with his life, who is ready to meet his Redeemer. Indeed, he’s so at peace he can take a Sheryl Crow song, Redemption Song and make you forget about her musings on toilet paper and suspect for the first time that she might actually be a talented songwriter. Then he takes Kristofferson’s For the Good Times- basically a song in which a horny goat tries to emotionally blackmail his ex into giving him some pity sex- and turns it into a moving reflection on a long life nearly at its end. The fourth track, 1 Corinthians 15:55 is the last song Cash ever wrote and begins with the lines from scripture:

Oh Death where is thy sting?
Oh grave where is thy victory?

Before Cash continues with a plea to God for shelter, guidance, forgiveness and mercy; but it’s a plea given in the certainty that God is merciful, delivered over a cheerful waltz. Cash knows that if he asks, he shall receive.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:01 PM | Permalink

October 26, 2009

Treasures cast into river by Archbishop of Canterbury

Many of the best Celtic artifacts have been found in water.  For ancient Celts,  water was a powerful manifestation of the supernatural, the boundary between worlds. 

They made sacred offerings and "deposits" in lakes, pools and rivers across Britain and Ireland.  When the dying King Arthur was taken across the lake to Avalon, his sword, Excalibur, was cast into the water.

Maybe that ancient idea was behind the number of treasures cast into the River Wear in Dunham by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey  who died in 1988.

 Bronze Archbishop Of Canterbury

The objects, some solid gold, have been discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead, 40, and his brother Gary, 44, a fire service watch officer, over the past two and a half years.

Their first find was an ornate silver trowel presented to the Archbishop for laying the foundation stone of an Indian church in 1961.

The brothers have since retrieved over 30 other items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of medieval and Saxon artefacts.

Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals struck to commemorate the second Vatican council, which must have been presented to Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:37 AM | Permalink

October 13, 2009

A Gift Outright

From American Digest PUDDY: The Gift

You can take lots of rides in this life, but a full sled careening down a hill of fresh snow is the closest to a ride of pure joy as you can get. You'll find it near the top of my list of "Best Moments in This Life." It's probably on yours too. If you've never done it, move it to the top of the Bucket List now.

The man buried here died in his 45th year: R. Scott Puddy

On the morning of June 18, 2002, Scott perished doing what he loved: practicing aerobatics in a Yak-52, in the mountains of Brentwood, Calif.

He was survived by his parents, his sisters, and his daughter.

The dark secret fear lurking inside you when you are a parent is that your children will die before you do. That fear came true for this family. All parents can imagine their grief, but all choose not to do so. But they did not choose, as so many do, to be utterly undone by grief. Instead they chose to balance grief with joy, "For Joy and sorrow are inseparable," and place upon this grave a bronze symbol of all that is best in this life and in this world.

It's a gift to their son, R. Scott Puddy, and a gift to any in the world who chance upon his grave. It's a gift outright.

 Puddysledsideview-Thumb

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

October 9, 2009

Brainwave portrait of Father Damien to be given to Pope Benedict XVI

Via Abbey Roads comes word of this portrait of Father Damian which will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of Father Damien's canonization on  Sunday,  Oct 11.

Finaldamienart2

The story of the artist and how the painting was accomplished is quite extraordinary.

Fr. Damien, a hero to Hawaiians, ministered to a major leper colony on Molokai where he contracted and eventually succumbed to leprosy in the late nineteenth century.

The late artist Peggy Chun had created the artwork with the help of schoolchildren at Holy Trinity School in Honolulu. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) had affected her to the point where she could only move her eyes.
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Despite her crippling symptoms, which led to her death on Nov. 19, 2008, Peggy used an ERICA eye response computer to communicate. She also used a device that would read her brainwaves.

“She was the first brainwave artist on the planet,”  said Shelly Mecum,  an art teacher and friend of Peggy.

Peggy painted her portrait of Fr. Damien, titled “The Damien,” by directing others. She trained her apprentices in her brushstroke “just like Renaissance artists.” The work is part painting and part mosaic.

She spent 18 months giving directions week by week to paint the 50,000 quarter-inch squares that would be used in the eight-foot by four-foot painting.

She was assisted by 142 children from Holy Trinity school over a period of 18 months. The students, who ranged in age from 5 to 13, understood themselves as “Peggy’s hands.”

“Peggy completely composed this painting,” Mecum explained, saying she chose the posture of the saint based upon photographs. He is in a posture of blessing and is depicted half in shadow to represent the “darkness” of faith.

When students wondered what would happen to the painting after it was done, another fellow art teacher Christine Matsukawa said "out of the blue" that it should be given to the Pope.

Mecum then went to Peggy with the idea.

“Peggy, would you like the painting to be given to the Pope?” she asked.

After a long pause, Peggy started to cry. This caused Mecum to wonder if she did not want to give the painting away.

Then Peggy spelled out in reply the phrase: “That would be the greatest honor of my life – Yes!”

The provincial of Fr. Damien’s order said he thought there could be no more magnificent and appropriate gift.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:18 PM | Permalink

September 30, 2009

Dead Media

 Dead Media

Artist Brian Dettmer uses dead media in the form of old cassette tapes to create amazing skeletons.

More here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 PM | Permalink

September 9, 2009

"Things are going to slide, slide in all directions"

Sarah Capewell encountered the NIS and its respect for a human life in the form of a premature baby and it was devastating.

As her contractions continued, a chaplain arrived at her bedside to discuss bereavement and planning a funeral, she claims.

She said: 'I was sitting there, reading this leaflet about planning a funeral and thinking, this is my baby, he isn't even born yet, let alone dead.'

After his death she even had to argue with hospital officials for her right to receive birth and death certificates, which meant she could give her son a proper funeral.

"Doctors told me it was against the rules to save my premature baby"

Miss Capewell, 23, said doctors refused to even see her son Jayden, who lived for almost two hours without any medical support.

She said he was breathing unaided, had a strong heartbeat and was even moving his arms and legs, but medics refused to admit him to a special care baby unit.


She said he was breathing unaided, had a strong heartbeat and was even moving his arms and legs, but medics refused to admit him to a special care baby unit.

This is the future, sliding in all directions.  I am reminded of Leonard Cohen, the modern day prophet, singer and songwriter who sings The Future in this Youtube video here

From the lyrics

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it's lonely here,
there's no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that's an order!
Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that's left
and stuff it up the hole
in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I've seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant

You don't know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I'm the little jew
who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It's over, it ain't going
any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:56 PM | Permalink

July 12, 2009

July 7 Memorial in Hyde Park "Exactly Right"

London Unveils Memorial to July 7 Victims

British officials unveiled a memorial of 52 steel pillars in a London park Tuesday - one for each victim of the July 7, 2005, attacks on the city's transit system.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Prince of Wales and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall attended the memorial service along with families of the victims. The stainless steel columns stand 11.5 feet tall in central London's Hyde Park.

Former Mayor Ken Livingstone, who was in office at the time of the attacks by four suicide bombers on three subway trains and a bus, praised the design of the memorial.

"I think it's just exactly right. Often, it's very difficult to do something like this and get it right," he said.

The daughter of a woman who died in the bomb attacks on London's transit system says a memorial to the victims is "truly incredible."

 Hyde Park July 7Th Memorial

The July 7 memorial says what words cannot

We have become exceptionally good at revering our heroes and this latest effort is as utterly right as the Cenotaph, says Simon Heffer.

The dignity and appropriateness of the memorial in Hyde Park to the 52 people murdered in the London Tube and bus bombings four years ago speak for themselves. The concept of 52 tall, strong bars of steel towering above those who visit the memorial to pay their respects makes a statement about the indestructibility of the human spirit; it also proclaims a resilience against those who would, in one way or another, remove our freedoms.
Yet what the memorial also reflects is a tactful evolution of taste, and an appropriateness not merely to the suffering of the dead and bereaved, but to the spirit of the age. It can often be dangerous, in contemporary art, to strive not to be literal; it risks lack of comprehension on the part of the viewer and, in this case, displaying a lack of respect.
--

As a people, we are exceptionally good at memorials. Even before the wars and destructions of the last 100 years, we had perfected the art of the epitaph, with its combination of honesty and wit: they are to be found in almost every parish church in England. They accept death as a frequent visitor to the parish; but they accept, too, that life goes on.
--
It is here that one first notices the contrast between the British way of dealing with such a holocaust and that of other people. Understatement is almost always the key

Centopath London Wwi By Luytens

Lutyens's cenotaph in Whitehall is the ultimate incarnation of this outlook. Like the July 7 monument it was, in its time, devastatingly modern; yet piercing in its simplicity. Erected in wood for the first Armistice Day in 1919, the form proved so instantly popular that the architect was commissioned to have one built in stone for 1920. It reminds us that the grief provoked by nearly a million dead from Britain and the Empire was so immense that no extravagance of words, or sculpted gesture, could even begin to convey it, or the pointlessness of the sacrifice. The gently sloping lines and plainness of the stone have for 90 years embodied the scale of the loss. And three words were all that were needed to convey the nation's reverence for its heroes: "The Glorious Dead".

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It is what seems to me to be the direct link in tone and expression between the Cenotaph and the July 7 monument that seals in my mind the utter rightness of the latter. The expression is of the eternal values of liberty, democracy and justice and their ultimate triumph over their enemies

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:27 PM | Permalink

May 4, 2009

Cancer Bride

Romain Blanquart's photographic essay The Bride Was Beautiful is heart-breaking and beautiful.

  Cancerbride

Young Katie Kirkpatrick, 21, fought off cancer long enough so she could marry her childhood sweetheart.  She died five days later, a married woman.    Roman recounts her story in a few words and masterful photographs.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

April 7, 2009

Santa Muerte, the Death Saint

 Santa Muerte

From the AP, Mexico destroys 'Death Saint' revered by criminals

Officials in Nuevo Laredo have destroyed more than 35 statues dedicated to a "Death Saint" popular with drug traffickers.

The statues, most depicting a robe-covered skeleton resembling the Grim Reaper, lined highways and roads in and around the Mexican city on the border with Texas. One of the statues was located at the base of an international bridge linking Mexico and the U.S.
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The Death Saint is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but has become popular among organized crime figures in Mexico.

Time magazine on Santa Muerte: The New God in Town

Now appearing in New York, Houston and Los Angeles: Santa Muerte. The personage is Mexico's idolatrous form of the Grim Reaper: a skeleton — sometimes male, sometimes female — covered in a white, black or red cape, carrying a scythe, or a globe. For decades, thousands in some of Mexico's poorest neighborhoods have prayed to Santa Muerte for life-saving miracles. Or death to enemies. Mexican authorities have linked Santa Muerte's devotees to prostitution, drugs, kidnappings and homicides. The country's Catholic church has deemed Santa Muerte's followers devil-worshiping cultists.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:46 AM | Permalink

March 27, 2009

The Secret Scripture

It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them.  Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees , wit half a date dangling after and a question mark.

My father's happiness not only redeemed him, but drove him to stories, and keeps him even now alive in me, lie a second more patient and more pleasing soul within my poor soul.

I loved this book set in Ireland and the beautiful, lyrical  prose of its author who was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2008.

Sebastian Barry writes about the beautiful Roseanne Cleary McNulty, a 100-year-old woman in a mental asylum for far more than fifty years who is secretly writing the story of her early life (the Secret Scripture of the title)  and hiding it under the floorboards in her room. 

Dr. Grene, a psychiatrist in charge of deciding what is to happen to each of the patients when the asylum closes- and so Roseanne's fate- becomes fascinated by Roseanne's resilience and lack of bitterness and soon begins to uncover  the truth of why she was sent to the asylum in the first place. 

"The Secret Scripture" (Sebastian Barry)

 The Secret Scripture

Here's another few snippets:

It is always worth itemizing happiness, there is so much of the other thing in life, you had better put down the markets for happiness while you can.
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We are never old to ourselves.  That is because at close of day the ship we sail in is the soul, not the body.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:45 AM | Permalink

March 14, 2009

Taking Chance

I wrote about Taking Chance Home back in 2004.    I was immensely moved then and again when I watched Taking Chance last month on HBO.  I meant to write about it, but I got distracted and didn't.    What is most impressive is the respect, even reverence, the Army takes every step of the way and the manner in which Americans meet that respect with their own.

 
But I must say I was surprised at the size of the audience.  Today in the Wall St Journal on 'Taking Chance'.

It's been widely observed that movies about the Iraq war have tended to bomb at the box office. One newspaper report speculated that films like "Home of the Brave" and "Stop-Loss" failed because "the audience might prefer a longer interval before viewing events as troubling as war."

"Taking Chance" refutes this notion. When it debuted February 21 on HBO, it became the network's most-watched original movie in five years, drawing two million viewers -- especially impressive given that it aired on Saturday, traditionally not a big TV-watching night. An HBO spokesman estimates that another 5.5 million have watched subsequent airings of the film, and that doesn't count DVR viewers.

What makes "Taking Chance" different from the other Iraq movies is that it is all realism and no cynicism. It dramatizes the 2004 journey of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, played by Kevin Bacon, as he escorts the remains of a 19-year-old Marine private, Chance Phelps, from Dover Air Force Base to Phelps's Wyoming hometown, where Strobl meets the family and attends the funeral.

"Taking Chance" does not glorify the war. It takes no discernable position on whether America should be in Iraq, although a few people Colonel Strobl meets along the way express their view, pro and con. But almost without exception, the Americans he encounters are respectful, patriotic, grateful for his service and for Private Phelps's. If Hollywood wants to make war movies that appeal to a broad audience, it could do worse than to take in "Taking Chance." The Americans who show Colonel Strobl such reverence as he makes his way west are the very audience Hollywood wishes it could reach.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:49 PM | Permalink

February 10, 2009

Funeral Blues

Funeral Blues
by WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut of the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My moon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one:
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods:
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 AM | Permalink

February 8, 2009

When Death Comes

A poem by Mary Oliver

When Death Comes 

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

To buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
When death comes
Like the measles-pox;

When death comes
Like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
What is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:08 AM | Permalink

July 23, 2008

Is Elvis in the Forum?

  1800 Year Old Elvis

The Roman Elvis was chiselled 1800 years ago, a marble arcoterion to decorate the corners of a sarcophagus, a stone tomb or burial chamber and will go on sale in October in London by the British auction house Bonhams.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:50 AM | Permalink

May 10, 2008

Willie Nelson Gravedigger

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:03 PM | Permalink

April 25, 2008

The Illusion of Art at the Louvre

 Louvre Tombstones
What in the name of all that is holy was the Louvre thinking with this exhibit of a "chaotic pile of tombstones" in the same room with John Paul Rubens series on the Life of Marie de Medicis?

The Brussels Journal finds at least one professor of art calls it The Vampirization of the Louvre

Contemporary art, which is not art, seeks to give itself artistic legitimacy through a forced confrontation with the greatest masterpieces. It vampirizes them in order to affirm itself as true art. The Jan Fabre exhibit in the Louvre adds nothing to Van Eyck, Memling, Rembrandt or Rubens. It does however bring to Jan Fabre the illusion of conversing on an equal footing with them, the illusion, therefore, of being a great artist. [...]

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

April 3, 2008

This is the End

Life Before Death, photographs by Walter Schels, interviews by Beate Lakotta

 Edelgard Clavey 67

Before her death Eldegard Clavey, 67, said

"Death is a test of one’s maturity. Everyone has got to get through it on their own. I want very much to die. I want to become part of that vast extraordinary light. But dying is hard work. Death is in control of the process, I cannot influence its course. All I can do is wait. I was given my life, I had to live it, and now I am giving it back"

In the Guardian Joanna Moorhead writes about German photographer who was terrified of death, but felt compelled to take these extraordinary series of portraits of people before and on the day they died.  She writes
Nothing, it is said, teaches us more about living than dying. But if so, isn't it odd how little we face up to death? And isn't it odd that modern societies, which appear so keen to find meaning in the business of living, push death to the periphery, minimising our contact with it and sanitising its impact?

A German photographer captures the dying
"What I was used to," says Schels, who has taken hundreds of portraits during his career, "was people who smiled for the camera. It's usually an automatic response. But these people never smiled. They were incredibly serious; and more than that, they weren't pretending anything any more. People are almost always pretending something, but these people had lost that need. I felt it enabled me as a photographer to get as close as it's possible to get to the core of a person; when you're facing the end, everything that's not real is stripped away. You're the most real you'll ever be, more real than you've ever been before"

one thing you never get used to is the feel of a dead person - it's always shocking," she says. "It's like cement - that cold, that hard, and that heavy."--

horrifying though photographing the bodies was, more shocking still for Schels and Lakotta was the sense of loneliness and isolation they discovered in their subjects during the before-death shoots. "Of course we got to know these people because we visited them in the hospices and we talked about our project, and they talked to us about their lives and about how they felt about dying," explains Lakotta. "And what we realised was how alone they almost always were. They had friends and relatives, but those friends and relatives were increasingly distant from them because they were refusing to engage with the reality of the situation. So they'd come in and visit, but they'd talk about how their loved one would soon be feeling better, or how they'd be home soon, or how they'd be back at work in no time. And the dying people were saying to us that this made them feel not only isolated, but also hurt. They felt they were unconnected to the people they most wanted to feel close to, because these people refused to acknowledge the fact that they were dying, and that the end was near."

That last bit about how lonely they dying, isolated, even hurt, because people they most wanted to feel close to, refused to acknowledge they were dying just pierced my heart.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:24 PM | Permalink

January 31, 2008

Painted Death

In a small town in Hungary, a Dominican church was being restored when workers came upon a secret crypt that been bricked up for over 200 years.

Inside the crypt were 265 hand painted coffins, the corpses perfectly mummified.

     Painted Death

Painted Death from Curious Expeditions. 

Everything from the rosaries to the handmade stockings on their feet were equally intact, offering a gold mine for ethnographers on the funerary customs and everyday life of 18th century Hungarian villages. There was something there for doctors as well; traces of ancient tuberculosis. An Australian surgeon, Dr. Mark Spigelman, has devoted the past 6 years to studying the bacteria found in one mummy in particular, and the information gleaned from this ancient DNA could provide information that will help fight tuberculosis.
---

Each coffin had been lovingly hand-painted with crucifixes, flowers, quotations, bible verses, angles, skull and crossbones, hourglasses, and Memento Mori inscriptions. No coffin is a repeat of another; the variety of color, decoration, motif and even language (some in German, some Hungarian, some Latin) is simply incredible. These coffins seem to be painted with an almost joyous hand, as a celebration of the life, not a mourning of the death. One coffin, belonging to a miner, is painted with bones, skulls and a miner’s pick and shovel. Each coffin had been personalized with great thought and care.

Many thanks to Miss Kelly.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:46 AM | Permalink

January 25, 2008

The first videogame that made gamers cry

A tiny little game called Passage, developed by a 30-year-old Jason Rohrer allows plays to experience an entire simulated lifetime, that the developer calls a "memento mori game"

Aaron Rutkoff of the Wall St Journal who apparently scouts out time wasters calls this a  "pixilated metaphor" in his column The Game of Life.

It won't make much sense unless you download it for free here and play the 5 minute game.

As in real life -- it should be clear by now that "Passage" is in the metaphor-for-life business -- marriage comes with pluses and minuses. Becoming attached (literally) to your spouse means you can't easily navigate a maze full of narrow passages, which is located south of the starting point. That's where you'll find the treasure, a stand-in for success and wealth, which boosts your score. But treasure isn't the only way to gain points: Making progress from left to right also builds your score -- and traveling as a family doubles these points.

The game is interesting once if only to see the avatar age, becoming gray, then stoop-shouldered.  The music, said to be an homage to early Atari, I found dreadful.

What's so surprising is the emotional response from so many gamers.

gamers confess that they've been moved to tears. "I'll be a man and admit this game made me cry when explaining it to my wife," wrote blogger Josh Farkas.

"There have been a number of people who have written stuff about this being the first videogame to make them cry," says Mr. Rohrer. "That's definitely what I was trying to evoke."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:06 PM | Permalink

December 9, 2007

"Plus he's dead"

Shelley Fishkin, a professor of English at Stanford, was going through the Mark Twain's archives, when she happened upon an old manuscript of a play that made her laugh out loud.

“I hadn’t had that much fun reading a manuscript in a long time,” she recalled recently. “And I’d never been as surprised. It was a whole, finished play. He had even managed, and this was not necessarily his strong suit, a plot, with memorable characters and hilarious scenes. I thought it held great promise.”

Last week, the play Is He Dead? finally reached Broadway, in a version adapted by the playwright David Ives.

Mr. Ives was unspooked by the assignment. “I know I’ve delighted people in my time,” he said, “so what the hell? Don’t forget that writers are just guys like you, and that they’re all trying to make something good. Twain understood that. I think if he had pulled ‘Is He Dead?’ out of the drawer, he would have slapped himself on the forehead and said, ‘What was I thinking?,’ then revised it and put it onstage. He knew that theater is a totally expedient art.

“Plus, he’s dead.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:02 AM | Permalink

December 4, 2007

The Drowned Mona Lisa

 Inconnue De La Seine

Enchanted by the beauty of the corpse and her enigmatic smile, a morgue worker made a cast of her face and copies were soon all over Paris.

She became  "became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the 1950s" and inspired a remarkable number of literary works.
Inconnue de la Seine

via The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kirscher Society

What struck me was that the Paris morgue had thousands of visitors every day as the identification of anonymous corpses became

a spectacle […] – in the French double sense of theater and grand display"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 PM | Permalink

November 29, 2007

Bound in the priest's own skin

Father Henry Garnet heard the confessions of the Catholic plotters determined to kill King James I and to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the infamous Gunpowder plot of 1605. He admonished them to give up their plot.

Guy Fawkes was discovered in the basement of the Parliament buildings holding a lit torch, guarding a bunch of faggots( which was what small sticks or branches bound together for firewood were called) several feet away from tons of dynamite.

Each year on November 5, bonfires are still lit in England.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”

Because Father Garnet did not break the seal of the confessional to alert anyone to the plot and despite his lack of active involvement, he was found guilty of treason and executed in 1606.

Four hundred years later, a book, bound in the priest's own skin, will go up for sale at an English auction. Entitled "A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuit and his Confederats', some see an image of the priest's tortured face peering out from the binding.

'Facebook' bound in priest's skin for sale


_Bound-in-priest's-skin.jpg

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink

November 24, 2007

Remembrance Photography

Can there be anything sadder than parents who have anticipated heir baby's birth for months, to have the baby born so sick that it soon dies?

When such sorrow replaces joy, who knows what it takes to heal?  Yes, parents have to go on, but they also have to remember.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a foundation and a network of professional photographers who will come to a hospital or hospice and take professional portraits of the tiny baby so their parents and family will remember them.  Once the baby dies and is unhooked from tubes and machines, it may be the first and only time the parents have to hold the little one that they loved so much.

               Remembrance Photography

Thanks so much to Hootsbuddy who alerted me of this site and wrote a wonderful post, Remarkable Photo Ministry.

That's just what these photographers do, minister like angels, at the saddest times parents can experience.

Remembrance photography began in the Victorian era when a photo of a deceased loved one was treasured, especially if no other photographs existed.

Said one woman,
“What a comfort it is to possess the image of those who are removed from our sight. We may raise an image of them in our minds but that has not the tangibility of one we can see with our bodily eyes.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

November 16, 2007

Harnessing technology to open up the ancient past

If you are collecting information about your family origins, you must see The Peopling of the World to see how far back your ancestors go. 

 Peopling The World

Kudos to the Bradshaw Foundation for the presentation created by Stephen Oppenehimer that shows the world migrations of the human species based on the latest genetic research based on a synthesis of recent mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome evidence with archaeology, climatology and fossil study.

They call it an "iLecture" ( information lecture), a fact-driven documentary film presenting the latest theories using experts from  around the world and plan a new one each month, harnessing technology to open up the ancient past.

Fine foundation work and a hat tip to Maggie's Farm.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:47 AM | Permalink

November 4, 2007

Dead dolls

Long before CSI, , a New England socialite and heiress, dedicated her life to the advancement of forensic science. Frances Glesser Lee also helped establish the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University.

She also became a captain in the New Hampshire State Police, the first woman ever to hold such a position in the United States.  She had a most inventive way to teach her students about scientific crime detection.    Using her passion for dolls and dollhouses, she created eighteen miniature crime scene dioramas packed with tiny but detectable clues for her students to analyze.  She called them Nutshell studies of Unexplained Death.

 Diorama Francis Glesser Lee

Some of these Visible Proofs are now on exhibit at the National Library of Medicine along with other forensic views of the body.

Said Earl Stanley Gardner, a close friend who wrote the Perry Mason mysteries, "A person studying these models can learn more about circumstantial evidence in an hour than he could learn in months of abstract study."

Scribal Terror has more about Death in a Nutshell

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:04 AM | Permalink

November 3, 2007

Good Mourning, Death TV

I'm only surprised that this started in Germany.

Good mourning, you're watching Death TV

For the German media entrepreneur Wolf-Tilmann Schneider, though, it was a normal working day – and the perfect moment to set out his plans for Death television. The Grim Reaper, it seems, will soon be exposed to the full glare of the studio lights.

Etos-TV will be Europe’s first channel devoted to death: documentaries on beautiful cemeteries, round-table discussions about the appropriate means of burial and on-screen obituaries that can be distributed later to friends and family on the internet. 

The Good Mourning channel, as it has been mockingly dubbed by some, acknowledges that the population of Germany is ageing rapidly, that older people are often well-off and that the old taboos about discussing death are beginning to melt away.  “Some 830,000 people die a year,” said Mr Schneider, “and there are two million elderly in care.”  As a result there was a big demand for information about death, inheritance law and insurance policies.

The satellite channel is being backed by an undertakers’ association representing 3,000 funeral parlours across Germany. Its programmes will be sponsored by residential homes and stair-lift companies.

“This is not primarily an advertising channel,” Kerstin Gernig, for the undertakers, said. “It is about passing on information. Every person has left his mark, raised children, paid taxes, done something. We would like them to be shown respect.” On offer, too, will be an obituary service. For about €2,000 (£1,400), a photograph of a dead friend or relative will be shown on the screen, along with a spoken tribute. The 90-second obituary will be repeated ten times and then be available for distribution on the internet. For a higher fee, a short film can be made recording highlights from the life of the deceased.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 AM | Permalink

November 1, 2007

Memento mori

Terry Nelson writes in I see dead people...kinda that today we deny death while saints often contemplate death.

  Momento Mori
Saint Jerome by Carravagio

Memento mori, remember death, is a traditional maxim of the Church.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 PM | Permalink

All Saints Day

  All Saints
This tapestry from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was woven in Belgium using Egyptian cotton and digital files from the artist.

What's so lovely about the tapestry is that recognized, canonized saints are side by side with some unknown saints, ordinary people.

At Whispers in the Loggia, Rocco Palmo writes To Be a Saint

More than just sometimes, you'll hear of folks -- even of the not-normally-emotional type -- who've wept at the sight of the simple figures, shown walking together toward the altar.

And why the tears? Most common answer: something along the lines of "they look normal... they look like us."

...because "us" is what they are, and they're what we're called to be.

More about the tapestries

The artist John Nava who was commissioned to make the Communion of Saints said

the message of the image and the message of the Church "is a message of hope, redemption and meaning." Nava believes these are ideas that have been frequently dismissed in conventional modern art.

After the horrors of the 20th century - the World Wars, the atomic bomb and the Holocaust - humanity has routinely been seen pessimistically as "diseased and decadent," Nava explains. The best figurative painters of our time have made great works, but they often have been of a tragic and hopeless image of humans, if not a critical or cynical one.

The Communion of Saints, however, is exactly the opposite, Nava believes. Its theme is one of hope. He would like people viewing the tapestries "to see the humanity of these figures and feel a sense of connection to themselves."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:31 PM | Permalink

October 12, 2007

Photographing Time's Arrow

Photographer Bobby Neel Adams uses photo-montage, not photoshop, to create his extraordinary photographs that show's time's arrow.

Below from the series called age-maps.

 Bobby Neel Adams Age Maps-1

This photo-montage from the series Family Tree show how the "visual DNA" is passed on.

 Bobby Neal Adams Family Tree

Even more disconcerting are his montages of couples  - two partners as one figure as the image of their commitment.

 Bobby Neal Adams Couples-1

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:48 AM | Permalink

October 9, 2007

Heavenly Sounds

Music based on a near-death experience

Beth McCoy's Illumination Suite performed in a concert along with Brahms and Debussy

  “The first movement is about the scurry of life, and then bang, something happens,” McCoy said. “The second movement is called ‘Through the Tunnel.’ Everything is in the numbers of three, as in the trinity of the father, the son and the holy ghost. The third movement is about coming back from a near death experience and I called it ‘Returned, Transformed.’ It’s about coming back with a new sense of life.”
---

However, her near death experience isn’t exactly what prompted her to compose the piece.
“It was when I read Don Piper’s ‘90 Minutes in Heaven’ and read that he said that he would give up everything, even leave his family, to go back to heaven to hear the music,” McCoy said. “It was the music that he heard in heaven that made him feel that way.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 AM | Permalink

October 5, 2007

Eternal Ancestors

A new art exhibit opens at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Eternal Ancestors, Art of the Central African Reliquary.

  Met African Reliquary

Holland Cotter calls it a "gorgeous, morally and spiritually vibrant" in his New York Times review, Keeping Watch Over the Dead.

Anyone familiar with Western religious art, particularly art before the modern era, will recognize its basic theme: life as a cosmic journey homeward, with parental spirits, embodied in materials and images, coddling, counseling and chiding us every step of the way.
--
It is intended, as far as is ever possible in a Western museum, especially one as staid as the Met, to offer a view of traditional African art as it might have been seen through African eyes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 AM | Permalink

September 14, 2007

The Emperor's Search for Eternal Life

China's First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi searched obsessively for eternal life writes John Wilson in the New Statesman, Mortal Combat.

He prepared to rule  in a parallel universe underground with 7000 soldiers and press-ganged some 750,000 workers to build his  his burial chambers.

 Terracotta Chinese Soldiers

Somewhere deep beneath my feet, in a vast subterranean palace, lies the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. According to legend, he is interred in a gold casket sitting in a lake of liquid mercury. Snaking out across the 80-metre-long floor are streams of mercury that map the routes of those great waterways, the Yangtze and the Yellow River. The 15-metre-high ceiling is encrusted with pearls depicting the starry constellations. Antechambers reportedly contain the bodies of wives, concubines and advisers (not that their deaths coincided naturally; when it was Qin Shi Huangdi's time to go, friends and family were forced to follow him into the earth).

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, who is here in the name of cultural diplomacy. His mission is to secure the biggest ever loan of treasures from the tomb of the First Emperor, including members of the fabled, 7,000-strong Terracotta Army, guardians of the imperial afterlife.

"The First Emperor was able to dream on a scale that no one else has ever dreamt," he says with a boyish breathlessness. "No one else in history has tried to create a life-sized parallel universe in which he will rule for ever. So much of what modern China is can be seen as a direct consequence of what that man did. There are very few historical figures who changed the world in such a way that we are still living with the consequences."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:37 AM | Permalink

September 7, 2007

"For the Love of God"

 Damian Hurst Skull

"For the Love of God, what are you going to do next?" asked Damian Hirst's exasperated mother and that become the title of his latest art piece

Whether her comment came before or after she saw her son's life-size platinum skull encrusted with 8601 fine diamonds, I don't know.  Maybe it was after she saw the $100 million price tag or the investment group who bought the single most expensive piece of contemporary art ever created.  Or as William Shaw writes in the New York Times, "the most outrageous piece of bling."

Hirst is "very pleased with the end result.  I think it's ethereal and timeless."

Hirst, famous pickler of sharks and bovine bisector, all his art is about death. This piece, which was cast from an 18th-century skull he bought in London, was influenced by Mexican skulls encrusted in turquoise. “I remember thinking it would be great to do a diamond one — but just prohibitively expensive,” he recalls. “Then I started to think — maybe that’s why it is a good thing to do. Death is such a heavy subject, it would be good to make something that laughed in the face of it.”

Hirst, who financed the piece himself, watched for months as the price of international diamonds rose while the Bond Street gem dealer Bentley & Skinner tried to corner the market for the artist’s benefit. Given the ongoing controversy over blood diamonds from Africa, “For the Love of God” now has the potential to be about death in a more literal way.

Blake Gopnik writes in the Washington Post

What could be a better time to make this piece than now, and who a better artist for it than Hirst? More than anyone, Hirst knows that we have reached a new level of absurd consumption -- in the art market, clearly, but also elsewhere on this carbon-laden world.

No one claims that this is even close to being a major moment in the making of art. Everyone knows it is the greatest moment in the selling of it.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:49 AM | Permalink

July 15, 2007

Huggable Urns

Huggable Urns, I kid you not, are Teddy Bears with pouches for ashes, "something soft and cozy for your loved ones or precious pets final resting place."  Their tag line is "Hold Me When You Think of Me."  Cocoa Teddy or Snow Teddy are also available with detachable wings.

  Huggable Urns

via American Digest

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:37 PM | Permalink

April 10, 2007

Carbon copies

Artist Nadine Jarvis's project  Post Mortem has several  proposals for "alternative treatment for our deceased"

  Nadine Jarvis Pencil

Carbon copies - 240 pencils can be made from a carton of human remains.

Bird feeder  - a  bird feeder made from bird food and human ash.  A person is reincarnated through the bird.

Rest in pieces - like a pinata, a ceramic urn crashes to the ground in 1-3 years after the thread that holds the urn in the air disintegrates.

Personally, I prefer the diamonds.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:26 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 26, 2007

When the Game is Over

Available only at funeral homes, beginning on opening day, for only $699, official major league baseball funerary urns.

Each urn sits upon a home plate-shaped base and comes with a baseball which can be replaced by a special ball from your own collection.

  Baseball Urn

Caskets coming soon.

The firm designing brand name funerary products: Eternal Image

The full story at Book of Joe.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 19, 2007

Patron Saint of the Happy Death

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, carpenter and foster-father of Jesus.  He is the patron saint of the happy death Terry informs me is because he died in the company of Jesus and Mary.

 St Joseph

Update.  Here's more on St. Joseph's Day traditions

Update. My mother Mary had a great devotion to St. Joseph and prayed to him daily for a happy and speedy death," wrote another viewer. "She was 94 and in good health, still living independently in her little apartment near her family.

"On March 19, 2002 at one a.m. she suffered a massive heart attack. She made it to the hospital, received the Last Rites, and with all of her children, and most of her grandchildren, around her, died peacefully at three p.m. that same day, the feast of St Joseph.  Her prayers were answered!"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 16, 2007

The Moments That Define Us

A new movie starring Sally Field and Ben Chaplin called Two Weeks, now in limited release, tells the story about what happens to a family when the one person who holds it together can't hold on anymore.

            Two Weeks Movie

Writer/Director Steve Stockman has a blog describing how he came to write the movie which was inspired by his own experience of being with his siblings as his mother lay dying.  What he found at various screenings was people want to tell their stories.

After one screening in Seattle, I heard about the woman who didn't really know her brother until she spent his last 7 days by his bedside, when he was dying of aids. The woman whose sisters-in-law descended on her mother's house while she was dying and made off with the antiques. The man whose mother refused to talk to him about the fact that she was dying-but knew, and left him 15 pages of notes on how to live. Some funny stories, some sad, some with lessons, some horrifyingly pointless. But all of them very personal and fascinating.

At the Hamptons Film Festival last month, a woman in the audience said that she had never talked about what happened when her brother died, and she was amazed at how similar “Two Weeks” was to what happened to her. Others in the audience agreed.

It turns out that end of life is something that happens to everyone. And lots of people want to talk about it—but it’s such a private and scary subject, they think they’re the only ones.

It’s been great for me to find out that we’ve created a film about an experience common to many, many people. And it’s been great, I think, for people who’ve been through it to realize they’re not alone.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:20 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

March 5, 2007

PostSecret on Missing Grandpa

  Post Secret Grandpa

From PostSecret  where people mail in their secrets on a homemade postcard.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:09 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

February 12, 2007

The Merry Cemetery

  Romanian Gravestone
via Scribal Terror comes this Romanian gravestone

Burn in Hell you damned Taxi                       
That came from Sibiu
As large as Romania is
You couldn’t find any other place to stop
Only in front of my house
To kill me?"

She got it from The Spirit of Romania featuring the Merry Cemetery

The Merry Cemetery, an original folkloric art museum was founded in 1935 by a craftsman named Ioan Stan Patras and owes its fame to the vivid colors of the headboards on which are naively painted scenes narrating the biography of the deceased. The accompanying simple-rhyming stanzas are sometimes lyrical, sometimes ironic, but always sincere and never indulgent. The cemetery has become a chronicle of the local community.

....as a reward for its unicity and originality, Sapanta was declared the second  memorial monument of the world, right after the Egyptian Valley Of The Kings.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

February 8, 2007

Dead Critters to Cheer Guests

Funeral Home uses dead critters to cheer guests

A stuffed squirrel clutching a fishing rod. A dead badger hefting a football for a winning pass. Other ex-rodents enjoying a carousel ride.

Welcome to the world of Sam Sanfillippo, a funeral director who has amassed a large collection of stuffed animals in unconventional scenarios to cheer up guests mourning their loved ones -- and created a mini-tourism attraction.

If you're headed to Madison, Wisconsin, it's at the Cress Funeral Home.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:03 AM | Permalink | TrackBack

January 18, 2007

Art in Death

In an earlier post, Art Honoring Life, I noted the emerging funerary arts movement.   

First a show, now a gallery with the opening this week in Sonoma County that's dedicated to crematory urns and other "personal memorial art"

The gallery, christened Art Honors Life, will showcase the work of some 40 artists and craftspeople who are collectively pioneering a new aesthetic of death — creating sophisticated vessels of burnished terracotta, redwood burl, black glass, even biodegradable paper mixed with ashes from ancient oaks that, in terms of sheer artistic ambitiousness, hark back to the ancient Egyptians.

“Art and beauty can assuage anxiety,” said Maureen Lomasney, the 56-year-old artist and gallery owner, who started the concept with a Web site called Funeria, and sponsored a juried exhibition in Philadelphia last fall called “Ashes to Art,” a kind of Venice Biennale for the urn set. “Our goal is to take away fear.”

Seems to work for Laura Clauson  whose mother now reduced to ashes  lie in an

artist-designed ceramic prayer wheel etched with stenciled leaves. Having her mother’s remains close by ---— is comforting to Ms. Clauson, a 50-year-old transportation planner. “I’ll walk by and give mom a spin,” she said of the vessel, which is attached to a turntable. “Her presence is here.”
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“As our understanding of death changes over time, the forms we use to mourn also change,” said Robin Jaffe Frank, senior associate curator at the Yale University Art Gallery and the author of “Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures” ... “We’re all object-oriented, and we need tangible forms to express our relationship to a person no longer here. Mourning art responds to a deeply felt need.”

In Death as in Life, A Personalized Space

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January 13, 2007

Stumble stones

Artist Gunter Demning has installed more than 10,000 stopersteine - stumble stones, into the sidewalks of 202 German cities and stones.

They are meant to trip memory.

            Stumble Stones

Each is a brass plaque measuring about 4 by 4 inches and hand-engraved by artist Gunter Demnig with the name and a few terse details of someone lost to the Holocaust. Each stumble stone is set permanently into the sidewalk outside the place where the individual lived, laughed, and loved -- usually a house or apartment building and sometimes a shop or office.
--
"Here lived
Berta Spiegel
Born "Scheuer"
[In the] Year 1879
Deported to Theresienstadt
Dead 16-2-1942"

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"Stumble stones are on streets where everyone walks. The names cry out from the sidewalks of everyday life."
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"This is my life's work. I will continue for as long as I'm able," Demnig said. "Giving names back to the dead is a way of keeping them alive."

In Germany, singular remembrances.

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January 5, 2007

Death by Oreos

Daniela Edberg, creates some very witty photographs that make light of secret binges by women.  Here is Death by Oreos

  Death By Oreos-1

Death by M&Ms,
Death by Slimfast
Death by Cotton Candy
Death by Lifesavers

See all the photographs in the series, Drop Dead Gorgeous and read the interview by Nicole Pasulka.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:16 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

December 27, 2006

Fallen Astronaut

  Art On The Moon
The Only Art on the Moon

Created by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, sent aloft with Apollo 15 and installed by astronaut David Scott along with a plaque honoring 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who died in service.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:13 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

November 17, 2006

Famine Coffin

  Famine Coffin-1

Called  "famine coffin", it's not a coffin, but a sculpture by Steven O'Loughlin to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the great Irish potato famine that killed a million and forced the emigration of a million and a half more out of a total population of 8 million.

The artist explains


Each panel the coffin has various scenes dealing with the famine. The outside deals with immigration and the inside has the famine scenes. On the cover is a celtic cross with figures and spiral patterns. At the base of the cross two sad figures cradle a withered potato plant. Each cross arm has people praying for relief. The top section has a resurrection scene symbolizing their rebirth to their struggle of life in America. The right side shows immigrants boarding ships bound for America. The top side has a group of immigrants enduring the rugged Atlantic crossing. The faces for this panel were taken from photos and paintings of the famine period. The left side shows the immigrants arriving in America where they begin to assimilate into the bustling city.


    Many of the scenes on the coffin were taken from newspaper articles and eyewitness accounts of the famine.

Steve lives in Los Angeles and says of his art
The multi-cultural tone of the art is meant to symbolise the mix of cultures we live in. Mexican, Celtic, Asian, and African styles are combined with freeways, airplanes and cityscapes. It is the intention of my work to show the universal patterns symbolized in these ancient art forms at work in our modern world. Certainly Celtic art is one of my dominate influences.

I love his work which is very post modern and witty what with subjects like  alien abduction, rodeos, freeway traffic, angels and airplanes all in his very distinctive style.

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May 10, 2006

Art Honoring Life

Funeria, an arts agency, is leading the emerging funerary arts movement.

Funeria offers a portfolio of some 70 designs, of hand-made, museum-quality, artist-made funerary vessels.

  Ashes To Art

It's certainly time for more thought and beauty for the urns, vessels and reliquaries for cremated remains.  As one wag said, "You've urned it!"

If you are an artist, you may be interested in their call for entries 2006 in the Ashes to Art collection. 

The deadline is August 19, 2006.  The Ashes to Art exhibition will be in Philadelphia in October.

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