About 2 years ago, I posted this rather (understatement) disturbing art image and posed the question “Did anyone ask Laura Nelson,” the woman portrayed in the image, if she wanted to be remembered that way? Now, a couple of years have passed and I am no less disturbed by this “art.” But, I am re-posting it in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. I am also adding the odd and far-reaching twists and connection that I have learned about this lynching. It seems that one of the people who was in the mob and a highly willing participant was the father of folksinger Woody Gutherie, famous for singing “This Land is your Land” and also in turn for fathering Arlo Gutherie of Alice’s Restaurant fame. Life is weird. History is weirder. The truth of our pasts and presents is weirder still… This was first on my blog January of 2013 Today I had planned a very different post, but last night’s local NBC affiliate station WTHR here in Indianapolis ran this story as a “night cap.” I tossed and turned quite a bit thinking about this poor soul, Laura Nelson, and her image, taken from a 1911 photo, hanging from our city’s fancy new library’s ceiling…quite awkwardly coincidental since the subject of the photo is her lynching, and brashly portrayed as “art”on fabric.
It’s a painful image to see.
Meant as a piece of the Black History Month observance display, I “get” that this quilt is not meant to be pretty. It’s about a painful fact of our History. Most importantly (in my opinion), the vignette is about the pain of Laura Nelson herself. How awful. How unspeakably awful.
The reporter interviewed several library visitors and the Arts Curator as well. The comments were understandably mixed…one man (literally) applauded the portrait for its representation of what happened so commonly. Others expressed concern over it’s potential to emotionally terrorize children stumbling onto this life-sized image of a horrible death. Not just any death, a cruel and ugly death.
There were idiots interviewed too...I hope I don’t get attacked just for being white after someone sees this…
Perhaps the most telling part of the story though was captured by the news station’s photographer who caught the unfiltered reactions of those who “happened upon” the display with no warning.
I wonder how Laura herself would feel about this “art project”? Would she be proud, humbled, hurt…would it make her sad to be remembered 100 years later only as a photo representing terror and wrong doing by others who were also “human.”
Last night I was finally able to drift off to sleep when it occurred to me that maybe somewhere on the same night, someone was becoming inspired to write the bigger story of this woman. The story of Laura. The life of Laura Nelson. Maybe a Grandchild, or a distant cousin, or cherished neighbor, or friend.
Maybe, no, I am sure…
Someone should write that down…
This link will take you to the full story, it is disturbing, or it is beautiful ~it is as you perceive it. One thing is for sure, it is not easily forgotten.