I am currently in the middle of reading this book and excited by the connections it has revealed.
*Death, Memory and Material Culture by Elizabeth Hallam and Jenny Hockey
A book about the process of remembering and memorializing and the objects associated with this process.
It has always been important to me that there is integrity in the things I make and reading material such as this helps to inform this. It is not important that this background research is evident to the viewer in the finished work but it does play a vital role in how I develop a piece or a body of work, it informs decisions about materials used and has very often had an influence on the title of a project or work.
There are times when this type of research leads to little of use but there are also times when surprising pieces of information are found or unexpected connections made.
Late last year I began revisiting my collection of pillowcases (and more on this is to come in another blog post). I have not actively been researching pillowcases since completing my residency at London Printworks Trust back in 2013 so to accidentally come across some interesting connections is always a lovely surprise.
The chapter I am currently reading is entitled ‘Death Writing’ and discusses, amongst other things, the act of writing a will on your deathbed (we’re talking 16th/17th century). The idea of death beds is something that Resting Place references, the idea of the last place of rest being with your head on a pillow and the connections this has to your final resting place, as in a grave are all bound up together in the installation that is Resting Place. The hand embroidered pillowcases etched with Clarice’s words reference the inscriptions on grave stones and memorial plaques and are deliberately exhibited without the pillows inside, an absence, an empty container.
So, back to the book and for me an interesting discovery
‘The portrait of Thomas Braithwaite shows the dying man sat in his bed, which is draped in black cloth. Accompanied by an attentive male figure, Braithwaite gazes down upon the will that he is writing. While the black fabric of his bed frames the pale paper upon which he writes, his upper body is supported and surrounded by pillows, which are also inscribed with words’ (page 162)
This reference to words inscribed on the pillows is intriguing and I wonder if this painting is unique in this or if there are others (more research needed)
Click here for an image of the painting
I have found that the text written on the pillows is taken from Psalm 73 “Yet God is good to Israel, yea to those which are pure of heart.” a possible affirmation that Thomas was ready spiritually to welcome death as well as in a worldly sense shown by the giving over of his worldly possessions in the making of the will. However, I can find no information as to the significance of placing the text on the pillows.
This chapter in the book also references research carried out at Canterbury Cathedral archives and as I was reading this it crossed my mind that it would be strange if the research had included the records of the Sprackling family (an early version of the surname Spratling)
I was rather taken aback a few pages on to read this
When John Hailes of Canterbury lay on his deathbed in 1602 he requested that the desk containing his will be brought to his bed. The will was read before witnesses to confirm its contents as Haile’s last wishes and the event was marked with the giving of tokens: ‘out of his desk the testator delivered tokens to those present – Mrs Sprackling his sister two pieces of gold and also two showell abounds (as he termed them) for Luke Sprackling her husband’ (page 167)
I have no idea if they are ancestors of Clarice but seems likely as I know that the Sprackling’s I have researched at Canterbury Cathedral are.
I just love it when something like this happens. For me it not only validates the reason for research but drives my ideas forward and provides a never-ending circle that is Clarice’s archive, my work, the research and the discoveries it leads to, often bringing me abruptly back to the place I started.
*Hallam, E. and Hockey, J (2001) Death, Memory and Material Culture, Oxford, Berg