Tuesday, August 24, 2010

National Museum of Funeral History

This morning I visited the National Museum of Funeral History. I viewed many caskets, coffins, funerary vehicles, and mourning objects.

It was a treat to see some hair jewelry and hair wreaths and to learn about door badges. The experience of the many objects especially those from the Egyptian and Mexican funeral traditions were very beautiful in their relation to death whether as a life-long process or celebration.

Victorian-era home with the parlor set for mourning. Note the covered mirror above the mantel and the black fabric draped over the picture on the wall indicating the deceased. Mirrors are covered so the spirit of the deceased does not get trapped within and so mourners do not see their reflections and become the next to pass.

Victorian mourning dresses made especially to be worn during burial. Behind the dresses are photographs of a live woman modeling the dresses to be worn after death.

Hair shadow box (above). The hair shadow box is a mourning device. Unlike the body, hair does not rot. In the 19th century, mourners would often save hair and have it fashioned into an object/keepsake.

A highlight was the Funeral Bus. Here is my recollection of the story of the bus: The Funeral Bus was on the road in San Francisco in the 1920's. The driver sat up front with the deceased behind him and the pall bearers and mourners in the back of the bus. During a trip up a steep hill, the back-heavy bus tipped and sent all the passengers including the deceased on a roll. The embarrassed funeral home owner retired the bus. For about a year it was the home of a ranch hand, then it was renovated and is now in the Museum.

A frilly casket.

Frilly casket detail (above). The caskets at the Museum are for display purposes only. Some of them were unused and/or unsold at one time. I don’t know about all of them though. For example, there is a casket for three at the Museum. A couple commissioned it whose child had passed away. They planned to kill themselves and all three be buried together. They decided to not kill themselves and years later wanted their money back from the casket maker. Needless to say, he did not return their money as it was already made, and he had been storing it for years. (above)

Colorful, almost cake-like grave sites from Mexico.

trip to east Texas

Saturday evening, I left for east Texas for a few days. While in Nacogdoches, I visited Jo Carlson and Robert Gruebel. They are restoring a time-neglected Diedrich Rulf Victorian-style home located on Mound Street. At one time, the house served as a funeral home. It functioned as such for over forty years.

Chapel windows (above).

Embalming room (above).

Jo showed me adjustments that were made in the house to accommodate the funeral business. This included (above) enlarging the passage under the stairwell to accommodate caskets.

Viewing parlor (above).

We discussed ritual as both of them are collectors. Jo collects Victorian objects, and Robert collects African objects. We also discussed a performance to mark this "undertaking."

I also visited my parents, and pick-up a ponytail of my hair which had been cut off when I was a teenager. I plan to incorporate the hair into a mourning object.

My mother read me two obituaries, one she had written for herself and one for my dad. They then argued about where to be buried and if to be buried together.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The WAKE project was selected for the School of Latitudes at labotanica. From August 17 through September 25, 2010, I'll be developing the project further through this residency.


CLEANSE took place at The Foundry on Saturday, July 31, 2010. While participants lay on their backs they were wiped clean three times with a cloth soaked in cool water. They were then wiped down with tea tree oil to cleanse and offer a tingling sensation. This was especially refreshing due to the heat and humidity of the August evening. Afterwards, they were allowed to rest until they were ready to "rejoin" the world. Eucalyptus oil burned throughout the process.

This process is symbolic of how bodies are customarily wiped clean after death. As the participants were not dead, they had the gift of returning the the "rest" of their lives.

WAKE: about

Wake is an interactive performance project comprised of the writing of eulogies and an actual wake to be held to read them. The mission of the project is encourage participants to actualize the life they would like to have/be remembered for having, to set goals, and to begin anew (i.e. "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" experience).

Wake is inspired by life, realizing life, realizing I’m/you’re alive now. It is also inspired by death, a subject our culture seems to be ignoring more and more. It is also inspired by coping with death, our limited time here, and what we do with that time.

Wake is informed by a loss of faith, missing, longing, trying to remember, wondering what makes anything important, napping, feeling alive, feeling numb, self-destruction…and on and on…I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list.

The first publicly scheduled event with the project is scheduled for September 11, 2010 at house-gallery Gallery 1724, 1724 Bissonnet St., Houston, Texas 77005.