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Ashes to Ashes: A Sunday in the Cemetery

“I am enamored with the hauntingly beautiful spirit of Savannah; history is tangible here. The cemetery in particular is a place where the visuals and words come together as markers of remembrance; statues and engraved stones invite us to reflect on the lives of those they remember, and to consider our own mortality in doing so. I will be visiting cemeteries throughout the quarter in order to take photographs and inspiration from the echoes of memory that reside there.”

— Graduate Drawing Studio Proposal

This past Sunday, I spent a contemplative afternoon of reflection and research at Catholic Cemetery in Savannah. Vine charcoal in hand, I set out to take some ephemeral textural impressions from the site’s grave markers and statues, and the results provided a poignant catalyst for future directions in my studio work.

The process of collecting these texture rubbings was at first an unsettling one — I found myself wary of invading the space of these markers and hesitant to disturb them, even though I left no trace at the site. Careful not to spread charcoal anywhere but the paper, I slowly collected impressions of surfaces that called to me, and the process quickly became a spiritual and prayerful one as I considered the lives memorialized by each stone. In the first image below, rainwater on the stone interacted with the charcoal to create puddles of richer black.

The materiality of charcoal was a meaningful part of this experience, as it has an intimate relationship to fragility and ephemerality, earthiness and fire, darkness and light. I have been working consistently in charcoal for my In Memoriam Illustrated series, but the raw presence of the charcoal in these rubbings draws out the essential physicality of the material in a different way. The relationship between these images and the mortality they reflect is of great interest to me.

As I left the cemetery, my eye was drawn to one last inscription on the way out, which moved me most of all: “Remembrance is the greatest gift.” These words resonated with my very soul. More than any of the physical product of my work, the ultimate work I hope to achieve is remembrance. In spending time with the souls at the cemetery, I realized that the gift of remembrance goes both ways: even though the graves I visited belonged to people I never met, the afternoon was a quiet exchange of peace and tranquility.

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