Photos by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services

 



 
Photo above: Mari Stair, graduate instructor for Pathways to Academic Success; Trevor Bond, interim head and special collections librarian, WSU Libraries; (l-r) Keith Wells, curator of the WSU Museum of Art
 
Safely inside a glass case in the Holland-Terrell Library rotunda, a mysterious collection of historical and art memorabilia lures the curious passersby.  With its stark human skeleton, brightly colored paper cutout flags, Victorian beetle prints and antique lace, the compilation seems purposefully discordant.  But it’s not.
“It’s actually a very logical display of items from related campus collections,” says Selena Castro, “brought together along the topic of ‘Ways in Which We Are Called to Remember,’ the focus of the current topic of the Common Reading project.”  A member of the Common Reading Committee, Castro is the program director for WSU’s Pathways to Academic Success (PASS).
“It’s a ‘cabinet of curiosities,’” says Trevor Bond, interim head of Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections (MASC).
“Items center on a theme of mortality. The Alex Gray prints displayed have an energy that almost vibrates off them, revealing things part anatomical and part spiritual — evoking where life begins and ends,” says Keith Wells, curator of the WSU Museum of Art.

And smack in the middle of the exhibit is arguably one of the most macabre artifacts on campus: the lifelike face of Abraham Lincoln emerging from brown-painted plaster, a rare cast from the death mask made of the just-assassinated U.S. president.

“We believe this bust is one of only five ever made from the death mask, and it and a statue were accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection in 1983 from a donation by Beatrice Witherspoon,” says Wells. 
Carefully placed next to the Lincoln mask in the display are delicate, black fabric items that were worn to Lincoln’s funeral: a somber, sequined badge and a “mourning crepe” from the Joseph Baily Collection established in 1998 in MASC by the family of the former Pennsylvania congressman.
“When Mari (Stair) from the Common Reading Committee talked to Keith and me about pulling together a display, I didn’t know about the death mask in the museum but I knew about our Lincoln memorabilia,” says Bond. “Once the conversations got started, it was just a matter of coordinating the time and place for the exhibit. It has been a nice opportunity for all of us to take things out and get them together.” Stair is a graduate instructor for PASS.
 

 
Tape person brings together Jerry McCollum, CUB arts and culture coordinator, left, and Karen Weathermon, co-director of the Common Reading project and director of WSU Learning Communities
 
 
The idea for collaborating on the theme also traveled next door to the Compton Union Building, where Jerry McCollum, c
oordinator of arts and culture programming, was already thinking about displays for the new CUB Gallery.
“We knew about the library display and about Linda Heidenreich Zuñiga’s lecture Oct. 28 on the Day of the Dead, and
with thousands of students reading ‘Stiff’ (The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers), we saw a commonality: the human condition and mortality, in various forms,” says McCollum.
That led to two art projects on display on the CUB’s first floor.  One is a colorful Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar in a glass showcase, created and filled with photographs of beloved, now-deceased loved ones by Mujeres Unidas, one of five groups of the Coalition for Women Students at WSU.
In the hallway nearby, ghostly figures made of translucent tape strike poses.  They were made on the bodies of students, a project by the Art Students Union.
One tape art body was made on seven-year-old Peter Smith, son of Karen Weathermon, co-director of the Common Reading project and director of WSU Learning Communities.
“The teamwork around the Common Reading this year has been tremendous, and shows our students what the ‘WSU community’ is all about,” says Weathermon.  “Not only are dozens of faculty using the book in classes this semester, but residence halls, the libraries, the museum and student groups have gotten very involved.  Attendance at Common Reading Tuesdays evening events has topped 3,500 so far, and we still have weeks of the semester to go.
“Who would have guessed that this common reading about death would bring to life so many fascinating collaborations and fun learning experiences?”
What to read next?
It’s time to select a new common reading book for fall 2009.  Ideas can be submitted ONLINE @ www.commonreading.wsu.edu by clicking on “Nomination Form” on the left.
 
 
 
 
 
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar in a glass showcase at the CUB Gallery