Please note that due to the subject matter of this project (death/grief) some of the images on this blog might be disturbing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kathleen Mchugh's Hanky and Artist Statement

I learned about "Objects Of The Dead" through my participation in "A Book About Death" and "Um Livro Sobre a Morte" which are chapters in a continuing collaborative exploration about death by Matthew Rose. Both of those chapters in the "A Book About Death" evoked an artistic response in me which came from pure anguish and loss. Each work was created as an emotional response to some very hard deaths in my life.
When I thought about "Objects of the Dead" , " hankie", "Australia", and the people who are gone from my life, I felt the strongest creative inspiration coming from my Aunt Eileen. I was very close to my Aunt Eileen from young childhood until she passed away when I was an adult. She had a strong will, adventurous spirit, and independent mind. I imagined that she would be mortified now if I sent something to Australia that was created out of the angst generated by how much I miss her. So, I looked through her collection of things, picked up one of her linens to use for this painting, and wondered what she would like me to say in her honor. When I came to a stack of old passports, I smiled and knew that a passport would be the basis for this hankie image. I selected a passport she used on a trip which included stops in Australia and Japan as "the object of the dead" for this work. I know that this work is making her laugh to think that the remnants of a passport she used years ago are now retracing her trip to Australia as a post mortem art object. I know I'll be able to face her in the afterlife, and that this exhibit will be a good topic of conversation. When I held the passport in my hands, I thought about my aunt. She was the eldest of 11 children. Her parents immigrated to Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. from Ireland. She was bedridden with rheumatic fever as a child. She missed her grade school years doing all her school work in bed. She read many stories, had a great imagination, but also had no practical experience with which to compare her "book learning". As soon as she was allowed to leave the house, she took an umbrella, jumped off a bridge, and expected to float to earth as did a character in a story she read. She was lucky that she only suffered a broken arm. That accident didn't dampen her adventurous spirit. She managed to grow up, studied English literature in the States, and further her education by taking graduate courses in "Milton" at Oxford University. She would quote insights about "blindness" she learned from her English professors by forever identifying any underpinning of a tragic human event in which she perceived either collective or individual blindness to be a contributing factor. Having never married, she worked as a reporter for U.S. news media in Europe during the period leading up to WWII, taught literature, and traveled either alone or with friends. I spent a lot of time with my Aunt Eileen. When she became elderly, she called me to ask me if I could come over to her house to open a can of dog food for her. I had a sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong. I came right over and saw that the reason she couldn't open it herself was that she had fallen and broken her wrist. She fought against my insistence to immediately take her to a doctor. I had to do it. I finally said, "if you don't let me take you, I'm calling my father, "your little brother" and "your little brother" will be the one who does it. She gave me a long silent stare and told me to get her keys to lock her front door. We both knew that this injury signified that life as she knew it was over. It did, in fact, mark her decline. I visited her during one of her frequent hospital stays and she told me, "These doctors don't believe in leading anyone down a garden path. They don't have any positive news. I want to go home now". I took her home, and later that week she invited everyone over for dinner. An uncle who arrived first discovered her lying dead on a hallway floor. Her last achievement in life was that she was able to keep everyone at bay who wanted her to move to a safer environment. She was able to die in her own home. As I made the hankie, I thought of her dying and passing through to another place. She didn't need her earthly passport for this voyage.

Kathleen McHugh
Seattle, Washington


  1. What a great story Kathleen. I feel like I got to know your Aunt through this and glad you were able to track her adventurous spirit to Australia!

  2. beautiful. Very touching. Thank you,


  3. Heather and Mary-

    Thank you for your comments. I am looking forward to viewing all the works in depth via the on-line catalog. I'm deeply moved by this project and everything everyone has shared. Kathleen

  4. Your work is always so inspiring!
    See more at