By Bea Nettles
Urbana, Illinois: Bea Nettles, 2013.
4 Booklets: each 9 x 9", opening to 9 x 18". Digital offset printing. In a 9.5 x 9.5" illustrated slipcase. Signed by Nettles on the case.
Bea Nettles: "Poems about American history have been written using the last names from gravestones that are nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The stories are arranged chronologically from the regions earliest days and end with stories of families being reunited or going home."
The stories are managed through a set of four booklets which represent place by dividing the country into quadrants - North, South, East, and West.
Colophon: "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), 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, primarily taken 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 Stonecipher, I had 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 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 are 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."