Do you remember me telling you about the white collage piece that was wanting to be made? Shades of white, gleaming with pearl and glinting with silver. What comes next for me is always the connection. What is the spirit of the thing? What is it that this piece wants to say? There is a story hidden in the objects I choose for a piece, and it is my job to tell it. With textures, with objects, with words. I return repeatedly to gaze at the box contents, and to feel the story growing in my heart, in my fingertips.
A recent trip to the antique shops of Nanton, AB yielded some unexpected treasures from which a story idea began to emerge. A bag of ephemera, letters and manuals and oddments, $2. I sifted through the contents slowly, turning over seed catalogues and old letters offering loads of potatoes for sale. Tucked underneath was a night telegram addressed to Miss Florence M. Porter of Oak Park, Illinois. Intrigued by the wonderful red and blue envelope, I slipped the telegram from within it and read . . . dated October 25, 1912:
“I love you little girl coming home to you soon.”
It was signed simply “Ralph”. A thrill shot through me and tears pricked my eyes. How beautiful. How simple. I purchased it, along with a tiny envelope addressed to “Mr & Mrs R. M. Walker” dated August 1915 and containing a tiny birth announcement. I didn’t know if the “R. Walker” was the same Ralph as in the telegram, but at least in my imagination it could be . . . Among the photographs I had purchased, there was the handsome young soldier in his uniform. And here was the pretty girl in her lace-edged sleeves, holding a teacher’s pointer. And there, in my lap, lay the story to be told by the white and shining collage.
When I brought these articles home, I lay them with the collage materials on my desk and allowed the idea to formulate. Within days, the pressure building from the story to be told pushed me from collage to book. And so, the story hinted at of Florence and Ralph has grown into an artist’s book.
Yesterday, I made a return visit to the Nanton stores to see if I could find some more photographs or other material I could use. Well, what to my wondering eyes did appear . . . from the same bag of ephemera, a letter to Ralph from his sister, and another letter, addressed to “Mrs Florence P. Walker”. And so, it seems to be confirmed that Ralph and Florence were indeed Mr & Mrs R. Walker, and that they appear to have come from Illinois after the Great War to make a life in Nanton, Alberta. I feel tender and protective toward the characters of this story, these suddenly very real people whose intimate life details have emerged from a bag of ephemera in an antiques store.
The book is developing along with the story. And the white and shining collage? Well, you are just going to have to wait and see on that one!
This is how I work.