Last week I wrote about the Historic Interpretations exhibit that I’m participating in. The historic artifact I chose for my inspiration is this wallpaper fragment.
The last couple of days I’ve been thinking about what I want to make for this exhibit. You’ll recall that this wallpaper fragment came from the Bell Tavern in Danvers. A woman named Elizabeth Whitman stayed at the Bell Tavern where she died after giving birth to a stillborn baby. A book written by Hannah Webster Foster, titled The Coquette or The History of Eliza Wharton, was a fictionalized account of this woman’s death.
In doing some research online on Eliza Wharton, I came across a digital copy of the book! The picture below of Eliza Wharton was included.
How cool! Now I have a picture (fictionalized or not) of this woman. Skimming through the book, I learned that some of her personal belongings found in her room included a pair of slippers, a guitar (which she played periodically during her stay at the Bell Tavern) and her letters. Apparently Eliza was also a writer.
I know I want to make an art doll for this exhibit. I’ve had the phrase “the belle of the Bell Tavern” bouncing around in my head which in turned prompted me to think about the shape of the body for this piece. I’m thinking something bell shaped, curvy, representing the feminine. And for some reason a wire cage/skirt has popped into my head as well.
So I pulled out two things in the studio that most closely resemble these shapes: an antique, wooden potato masher and a bottle of Ivory liquid dish soap. And then I pulled out my sketch book and colored pencils.
Below is the sketch I did for my kernel of an idea (thanks Dayle for that phrase).
The two cane sketches represent part of the design in the wallpaper fragment. These will become the ‘fabric’ for the bodice of her gown. If I’m patient and focused, I’ll create a wire skirt to attach to the bodice. Now that I think about it, I must be leaning toward this wire skirt as it represents the restrictions placed on middle-class women in early American society, as described by the author Hannah Foster. (Another option is a small wire bird cage. Anyone have suggestions for where I might find a small birdcage?)
Because Eliza was a writer and her story was subsequently written, I think I’d like to mount the art doll on a book. Perhaps a small pair of slippers and a guitar will also be included. I noted in the picture that Eliza wears a shawl. That made me consider adding arms and a shawl but it didn’t feel right adding it to the current sketch. I’ll wait till the piece comes together before I make any decisions about that. At this point I’m estimating this piece will be about 12″ tall.
Finally, I came across a quote which was apparently over one door of the Bell Tavern which read:
I’ll toll you in if you have need, feed you well, bid you speed.
A rather poignant and ironic statement knowing that the real-life Elizabeth Whitman stayed at the Bell Tavern awaiting new life and died there a heartbroken woman, buried by strangers.