Grave Goods

Grave Goods is a self-directed project about memorial and grief rituals.

  •   journey from the cemetery to the cement factory
  •  making natural dye from spent flowers, called Deadhead Mix
  • and circular images with the dye and Caput Mortuum watercolour.

The Ground

The cemetery is on high sloping ground, one section of a patchwork of park, heathland and allotments.  The exposed spot is sheltered by tall trees with full boughs. In one direction there are far-reaching views to the surrounding moors and in the other, views across the city towards the distant wind turbines and TV transmitter mast. 

The use of the cemetery as a de facto park increased after the Chapel of Rest was closed. The most frequent visitors are people passing through or passing time. Rather than dutiful visits to specific graves on set days, these are more casual impromptu drop in visits.   

Wandering along the paths, looking at the rows of crumbling stonework I noticed the memorial vases. Some match the headstone, som do not There are distinct styles in grief and memorial. Many are Neo-Classical, featuring urn shapes derived from the artifacts of ancient Antiquity. Others, mostly from deaths in the 1960s and 70s, are Modern Geometric, often cast in concrete.

Cemetery to Cement Plant

I found a a little-used road, which had been a rather misguided Toll Road as the the undulating route is full of twists and turns. It is now a scenic link between cemetery and Hope in the Peak District where there is a cement plant. I saw my trip as a pilgrimage reversing the journey of the materials used in the suburban cemetery.

Deadhead Mix

For this part of the project I made an experimental dye from trimmed flowers from my own garden in response to the floral displays on graves.  I called it Deadhead Mix referencing both:

  • the  gardening technique called deadheading, which extends or manages the flowering period. Fading flower heads are cut back hard so the plant directs energy into growing more flowers rather than developing its seeds.
  • Caput Mortuum, Latin for dead head, is the name of brownish-violet paint made from iron oxide – i.e. rust. It was an alternative to Mummy Brown, a pigment supposedly made from mummies (possibly cat corpses). Caput Mortuum is an alchemic term for the worthless residue. 

I cut back these plants in my garden and used the cutting as the ingredients for a dye:

Agapanthus, Anemone japonica, Anthemis Mrs Buxton, Artemisia ludoviciana 'Valerie Finnis',Bronze Fennel, Calendula Indian Prince, Cistus x Pulverulentus Sunset,Cosmos, Dahlias, Helianthus Gullick's Variety, Lamium Silver Beacon, Lavender, Leucanthemum, Osteospermum Pale Face, Penstemon Raven, Petunia Black Velvet, Petunia Cherry Cola, Ridolfa Goldspray, Sedum Purple Emperor, Sisrynchum, Sunflower Black Magic, Variegated Pelargoniums (Mrs Pollock, Vancouver Centennial), Verbena Bonariensis, etc.

Although the resulting dye  was a red wine colour, the uptake on the different papers was variable and I suspect highly fugitive.

There is ambiguity about Caput Mortuum and Mummy Brown pigments.  Hematite (rust pigment) was used on funerary linens, so it’s both a precursor and substitute for Mummy Brown. Also there’s little standardisation between paint brands. I stored swatches of the Deadhead Mix colour in wooden artist’s paint boxes. Once this process was complete, the season had turned and it was too cold to work outside. I made watercolour paintings with Winsor & Newton Caput Mortuum paint.

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