messages to Ashley. 2007
215 South Fourth Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Exhibit: Shrines and Altars
July 8th- August 16th, 2009
The four images chosen for this exhibit are from my ongoing documentary study of Roadside Memorials from the greater Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware). Within these memorials I see folk art with multiple historic influences. All Roadside Memorials have roots in the Hispanic tradition of making small crosses and monuments at the places where pallbearers rested while carrying coffins from the church to the burial grounds in Mexico and the American Southwest. These were called Descansos (Resting Places). Many of the contemporary Roadside Memorials found today in the Western United States still show a strong influence of early Hispanic folk art, as well as Native American influences.
The Hispanic and Native American influences on Roadside Memorials are not as visually evident in the memorials found in the Delaware Valley. (With the exception of urban Hispanic neighborhoods)
As I photographed memorials of the Delaware valley I began to notice in many of them a connection and similarity to rural folk art of the 18th & 19th centuries, especially folk art of rural Pennsylvania and the hand carved tombstones and fractur art of the Pennsylvania German artisans.
As my project has developed, I have become more interested in the type of memorials that evolve into what I refer to as dynamic shrines. These are the spontaneous memorials that are established immediately after a tragic death, but are then visited and tended to on an ongoing basis, sometimes for many years after the event. The photographs Sister and RIP Bity!, included in this exhibit are both examples of this type of dynamic shrine. Sister is the memorial site of Ashley Nickerson, a 14 year old girl who was killed by a drunk driver while walking along the road on August 20th, 2004. The site has been visited and tended to on a continuing basis since that time, and her friends have written her messages to wish her happy birthday and to commemorate events such as the Prom and High School graduation on the back of the metal sign installed by MADD. RIP Bity! is the memorial site of Byron Handy, a 33 year old man who died in a vehicle accident on March 28th, 2007. This site has been modified and enhanced each year on the anniversary of his death.
Most of the traditional rituals that surrounded death in our society are now performed by hospitals, funeral homes, and morgues, instead of being performed in the home by family members. This results in an emotional void that hinders the grief process. I believe that artistic expression is highly beneficial to the grieving process, and may represent the fullest source of healing and closure for those without traditional spiritual or religious connections. Much of society today has lost touch with the creative and hands on aspects of grief and death, and Roadside Memorials may represent a return to those roots. This is the direction of study I am taking as I continue my documentation project.