Bea Nettles, “Place”
Photograph shows Bea Nettles reflected as she photographs the title gravestone in the Midwestern landscape where she resides.
Artist: Bea Nettles (Urbana, IL)
Title: Place (2013)
Medium/technique(s): Clothbound accordions printed inkjet on 100% rag paper, encased in clothbound four-fold folio with map endsheets.
Edition size: 6
Number of pages: 32 (4 accordions, 8 pages each)
Dimensions, open: books 9.5 wide extending to 35″; folio extends to 34″ wide by 19″ tall
Dimensions, closed: books 9.5 x 4.5 x .25″; folio 10 x 5 x 2.5 (H)
Place is a manifestation of my continued fascination with descriptive family names that are nouns, verbs and adjectives, my own nettles included. How did such names become attached to people and what might be their effect? Do people notice? Many names are explained by occupation (rider, roper, master), physical characteristics (brunette, dimple, blush) or dwelling place (appleyard, grimwood, halfhill). Other categories I found were food (corn, fruit, olive), animals, birds, alcohol, money…or its lack, weather, water, plants (nettles, beans, cotton) and trees (oak, chestnut, linden, birch).
What began with a few photographs of gravestones in the fall of 2010 has grown to a collection of over 2,500, taken primarily with my cellphone and managed digitally. My first project was Stonecipher: A Book of Seasons in which I used these stones to write poetry about the passage of a year. In Stoneciper, I limited my search to thirty minutes from home.
On my travels, I continued to seek out cemeteries, walking countless miles up and down the rows. I decided to create another book, this time featuring the four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west. It became apparent to me that I could write an interpretive history of the United States using the names of some of the families who immigrated here. Each story begins with the settlement of the region and ends with contemporary families headed home.
I set up several parameters for this project, aiming for correct grammar and spelling (hawks not hawkes) in the construction of the narrative. I used only last names (yes, victor and jack are surnames too) and did not remove or add letters. I broke my rule when I included sisters, which was not a surname that I found although I know it exists. This word helped me to include more of the history of women. The occupations that I could find were primarily masculine (with the possible exceptions of cook, baker, fiddler, housekeeper, nurse, and milliner) Also our naming conventions primarily use son (jackson, johnson) and man (spellman, wellman, sellman, bellman and dillman, killman, hillman and tillman).
To keep the project a manageable size, the stones had to be made small, so the photographs were retouched digitally for clarity and to remove first names and dates. You will have to trust me about this. Indeed, among the common names that we no longer think about at all, these wonderful and curious names do exist.