Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Book of the Dead

(Above: The Book of the Dead. As shown: 12 3/4" x 23 2/4". Closed: 12 3/4" x 11" x 4". Altered book filled with collected epitaphs. Click on image to enlarge.)


(Above: The Book of the Dead on it's lectern, front view. Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

There are 696 individual pages in this altered book. I didn't count the epitaphs but the best estimate is "over 1200". They were collected in the United States: in pioneer cemeteries in Oregon, cowboy cemeteries in Arizona and Texas, historic churchyards in Charleston and Norfolk, famous places like Bonaventura in Savannah (featured in John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), military resting places in Arlington and San Francisco, and in all sorts of other cemeteries located in Richmond, VA; Washington, DC; Slippery Rock, PA; Colma and Napa, CA; Hot Springs, AR; all over South Carolina ... and beyond. They were also collected in England: from Bath and Westminster Abbeys to churchyards and public cemeteries in Manchester, Eccles, Birmingham, Dudley, Plymouth, London, Chester, Exeter, and beyond.

The original sketchbook was a Christmas gift (2009) from my mentor Stephen Chesley. He’s filled at least two since then! I hadn’t put a single mark in mine …until my residency at Hot Springs National Park. Why? Well, it's GIGANTIC! It came from Art Alternatives ... 348 blank sheets of paper. That’s 696 pages of 75 lb. acid free paper measuring 12 ½” x 10 ¾”.

On and off, it took three days to fill the book with washes and splatters of ink, coffee filter stains, and watercolor gestures … in a “zen like” process of simply “marking the paper” and then responding to the mark with the next color. I did this during the first week of my residency. The pages dried quickly; the high temperatures were up to 106 degrees that first week!

For the remaining time I was in Arkansas, I wrote in the book at least three hours a day ... morning, afternoon, and evening. This allowed my wrist to recover from all the calligraphy.

Since returning to Columbia, I worked on the cover ... altering a cover from an 1880 Bible and attaching it with weathered, brown microsuede fabric, thread, and beads.

(Above: My work table at Hot Springs National Park's residency program.)

My studio assistant Reba spent over five hours erasing the light pencil lines that I drew for the calligraphy. Three "magic rub" erasers are now little nubs. Fortunately, we have an air compressor to blow away all the eraser residue.

Some of the pages are rather densely covered. The spread above is probably my longest epitaph. It's from Hilton Head!

At the front of the book I added vintage, clipped letters ... for a title page. For some reason, I couldn't resist using both my potential titles: The Book of the Dead and The Book of Death. This photo was taken in the main "gallery" room at Mouse House, Inc., our business. I guess that's where it will sit until opportunities for exhibition hopefully come along. I do plan to share it in Columbia at Vista Lights, the annual fall art crawl, at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios ... where my studio is located.

Right behind the title page, I added "Collected Epitaphs by Susan Lenz". Of course, I'm still collecting ... though I'm not sure why or "for what"! Time will tell.

The next page is a combination of various on-line definitions for the word "epitaph". The last page lists the places from which the collection came. Otherwise, all the pages are ink and watercolor washes with calligraphy.

(Above: The front cover.)

(Above: The back cover.)


SQfromSC said...

What a beautiful work of art. SPowell

Els said...

What an impressive work Susan!

Wanda said...

I can't believe how awesome this is. I can't wait to see it in person. It is so profound. It is sort of like a way to hold feelings from the heart, to make them tangible, touchable. Heck...I can't even express what I am feeling just looking at the pictures

lynda Howells said...

l am almost speechless susan. I wish l coulsd actual see and physically touch this amazing book.It looks beautiful and the amount of woek you have put into it is outstanding.xxxxcongratsxxxlynda

Linda of the Lake said...

The Book - yes. The stand for the Book - wow. Your Dad would be impressed.

Carole said...

Your energy, productivity and creativity are boundless. I struggle to keep up with your next pursuits but I am undaunted. Carole Rothstein