Monumental shifting concepts of monuments. The image above is taken in a small park in Battle Creek, Michigan at the center of town where, rightly, another corner is devoted to the great social justice activist/lecturer Sojourner Truth and another to cereal king C.W. Post. This cairn, this memory storehouse for its time, has been stripped of its plaque and I walk around and around trying to understand its purpose — it was put there to make viewers remember something, the aim of which is now forgotten. Uncommemorated. Passive obliteration hiding in plain sight/site. Way high on one side is a bronze plate about the USS Maine explosion in Havana's harbor in 1898 but there are also odd bits here and there (grindstone, anvil, rusted helmet) and the narrative is not clear. The historical society website tells me little about the piece (built in 1933) but a lot about the maker: James H. Brown who led auto tours to historic sites in the 1920s and picked up stones from each place he visited (like Plymouth Rock). He was the state's livestock sanitary inspector, an editor at a weekly magazine called Michigan Farmer, one of the founders of the historical society and he was deaf. Rose, get this, his touring car was 14 feet long and 6 feet wide and Brown, a journalist, had an office with a desk and typewriter in there. I want to know more about the tower. Why isn't it maintained or identified? Is it always just about money?
We came for Sojourner—who died in 1883 and 106 years later, was finally recognized in a major way in her adopted town—a monumental bronze statue on a dais. Seventh Day Adventists have always claimed her as one of their own (Battle Creek was an SDA center), but she first came to settle with a group of radical Quakers in their now-vanished nearby town of Harmonia. There is a lot I want to know, Rose, so I'm not done with this little investigation. Truth was involved with the sanitarium in town (a Kellogg/SDA project & subject of a novel by T.C. Boyle) and her thinking was in line w/ many aspects, at least the health ones, of SDAs as noted her quote:
"It is the mind that makes the body."
Both Kellogg and Truth were strong independent thinkers and Kellogg's break with the church is noted, but Truth's truth on this matter isn't as clearly recorded. The SDA church has planted a flag with a blaring white plastic pole practically atop her grave marking it as one of the stops on the Adventist Heritage, Pioneer, or some such Trail and it was ruining my shot. I wanted to move it, Rose. The ex-SDA, rebel girl in me lives. Years ago, I was dragged to several Adventist sites in Battle Creek by my lovely mother. She was a believer. Fervent. She loved her church. She told me proudly that Sojourner was one of us. I remember exploring the balcony of the tabernacle and traipsing around the sanitarium — the main part of which had not yet been demolished. It was empty, and wonderfully eerie. As a photographer, it was one of the places I always wanted to come back to and explore but it is now government property and probably gutted.
The weekend jaunt was partly about seeing "Sophie Calle: North Pole," in Ann Arbor. Treasures in rocks. I have probably used the word "gem" to refer to worthy little exhibitions way too much in arts writing over the years, but it is particularly apt here as your fellow Frenchwoman has created a simple yet rich installation. Calle buries her late mother's portrait, necklace and diamond ring in a place where her mother always wanted, and never did, get to see. The journey was rough, the weather was bad, but eventually Calle was able to get out onto the glacier and choose, "a beautiful stone," for her mission. I was profoundly moved at every turn. From Calle's storytelling engraved on porcelain tablets, as close as she might get to a sheet of polar ice, to conversations during the long drive. We spoke of mothers, strong women, and journeys of all sorts past and future. May our hearts never turn to stone.