All Souls Day

November 2 is All Souls Day. In many countries people go to cemeteries on this day, not only to visit the graves of relatives, but to tidy them up, leave flowers, reminisce. Some leave food and other items as gifts or even have a picnic.

William Christenberry, Grave with Silver Trim, Hale County, Alabama, 1982, printed 2000. Ektacolor print, 18 3/8 x 23 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2002.

William Christenberry, Grave with Silver Trim, Hale County, Alabama, 1982, printed 2000. Ektacolor print, 18 3/8 x 23 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2002.

A sweet William Christenberry photograph, Grave with Silver Trim, Hale County, Alabama (1982) is currently on display on the second floor of the museum’s Sant building. Someone cares for the small grave in his picture; there are plastic flowers thoughtfully arranged. There don’t seem to be any other graves nearby, making this one look isolated and lonely. Silver painted concrete edging indicates that it is a small grave, perhaps for a child, while the dusty red earth bleached almost pink and the faded flowers give a feminine, little-girlish quality. This is no casual snapshot–the rectangle of the grave is carefully composed within the photographic space.

There is a poignant quality to this photograph, very similar to Albert Pinkham Ryder’s Dead Bird (1890s). A┬ásmall dead bird was the traditional Victorian symbol for a deceased child–small, innocent, its song stilled.

Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant