Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase / Elizabeth M

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 18/12/2013

At times I struggle a bit with most of the long-term projects on which I spend a great deal of time and energy.  I realize that it is a normal part of the process, and having questions about what I am trying to do actually gives me a chance to think and, I hope, eventually get some answers.

During the first phase of this work, most of the cases that I was shooting were quite full of items that folks brought with them to Willard.  Craig Williams rightly thought that since my time was limited, I should concentrate on the most “interesting” cases.  Once I became committed to a complete documentation of all of the roughly 430 suitcases, I realized that most of the ones that I hadn’t shot were empty.  But empty is a relative term here.  In addition to the paper tags that identify the owner of each case, there is a beauty in the suitcase itself, and in the fabric lining, and in the straps designed to hold people’s clothing secure during transit.  Occasionally there will be some other random object; a hair pin, a button, a luggage tag, a newspaper clipping.

On Monday I was beginning to think that my interest in these empty cases was somewhat misplaced.  The project had gotten so much attention early on, and I understand that it was due primarily to what the cases contain, and what those contents say about the individuals that own them.  While shooting, I was feeling that fewer people would be interested in the empty ones, and I was bothered by that.  I thought about it a lot during my drive home from Rotterdam, and I began to remember what I always talk about when speaking about art and creativity.  Ultimately, the only reason to create art is to please the person who is creating it.  If others are affected by it, that is a huge bonus.  All I know right now is that I look at the photographs I took of this case and I see a life.  I see that her name was Elizabeth and that she came to Willard on 30 November, 1951. I see that she had a beautiful leather suitcase, and that someone in her family had the name Mary.  And I am really moved by this and hope to be able to move others when they look at these pictures.

So I am really jazzed about continuing.  The video for the next Kickstarter appeal is done and I have to decide when to get it up and running.  Right now I am thinking that early to mid January is the time, and I will certainly post about it here.  In the meantime, thank you all for following the project.  I really appreciate the comments and emails that come my way.

18 Responses

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  1. Karen said, on 18/12/2013 at 1:29 pm

    Not only is this a beautiful case, but the wear on the handle helps it transcend from the merely utilitarian in an anonymous context to something very personal and human. Causes one to think, which is what I think art should do. Karen

  2. Kilian Metcalf said, on 18/12/2013 at 2:18 pm

    Oh, dear, I swore off Kickstarter campaigns because I was spending far too much money on these addictive, creative endeavors. Guess there will have to be room in the budget for just one more.

  3. Ross Margaret said, on 18/12/2013 at 2:32 pm

    It is a good post. Right to the heart of what you feel. – Peg

    • Carol Swyer said, on 19/12/2013 at 9:35 am

      I’ve been following this blog for a long time now. I can’t remember where I first saw it. It is one of 2 blogs I follow…a few weeks ago I saw the acknowledgement and kudos to the person helping. I knew Peggy was a photographer and did work at the State Museum but never knew exactly what. We don’t cross paths that often anymore since our children are no longer in school together. How wonderful to see you involved in this.Hope to really catch up one day. Love this project. Carol S.

      • joncrispin said, on 19/12/2013 at 9:54 am

        Carol, thanks for your note. Peggy is amazing. I really couldn’t do the project without her. / I am pleased that you follow the blog. Thanks so much for being in touch. Jon

  4. C Mast said, on 18/12/2013 at 2:57 pm

    Jon – Your blog, your pictures, your stories have been the best part of 2013 for me. It has been a hard year for my family (but things are looking up). I cannot describe how much the occasional e-mail notices of a new “jon Crispin” posting have meant to me. They were like strong rays of light beaming down in a dark place. The pictures took me away from my life to another place and time. Your blog postings are so thoughtful, humble and caring that I came to feel as though I knew you. You added so much to my life this year. You have been a gift to me and I want to thank you.

    • joncrispin said, on 19/12/2013 at 10:01 am

      Dear C Mast. I really don’t know what to say, but I can tell you I am humbled by your comment. It makes me so happy to think that anything that I do could possibly brighten someone’s day. I wish you and your family all the best for 2014. Thank you so much. Jon

  5. Alisa said, on 18/12/2013 at 3:01 pm

    Yes, a life! It may be that the empty suitcases are just a different chapter of your book. The stains, tags and wear on the handles are the marks left behind of a real person, his/her spirit remains, essentially; we know someone touched them, left behind an imprint. Glad they were not discarded and that you are taking care of them as well.

    If you haven’t read it already, you might like the book, The Gift by Lewis Hyde. He talks about the gifts given to artists and what artists give when they create art (among other things).

  6. lyndarwh said, on 18/12/2013 at 4:00 pm

    ‘Ultimately, the only reason to create art is to please the person who is creating it. ‘ a timely reminder for me Jon and so easy to forget. Your posts are a delight and your artistic integrity shines through each image and word.

  7. Lisa Gordon said, on 18/12/2013 at 4:45 pm

    Even before I got to the quote: “Ultimately, the only reason to create art is to please the person who is creating it,” I was thinking the same. You have taken on a wonderful project, and one that I am sure many wish they had the opportunity to take on, and you are doing it so beautifully.

  8. silverfinofhope said, on 18/12/2013 at 7:54 pm

    There is a different sort of beauty in the empty ones…I’m certainly listening just as hard to these as to the full ones. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  9. Edna Porter said, on 19/12/2013 at 9:02 am

    By photographing even the empty cases, you are saying to the owners that their lives mattered. I think of the opening of each case as a release, of sorts, of the essence of that person. Whether the case is empty or full is almost inconsequential. I’m glad you decided to document every last case. Hoping to see the exhibit some day.

    • joncrispin said, on 19/12/2013 at 9:57 am

      Edna, I really appreciate your encouragement, and I love your metaphor (if that’s what it is; I get confused about parts of speech) of opening the case and releasing the essence of the owner. A very apt description of my feelings. Best, Jon

    • Faith Bishop-Rogers said, on 27/12/2013 at 3:37 pm

      I agree that shooting pics of the empty ones shows that those folks were / are valued now. It helps to enhance the reason this story pulls at our heart strings

  10. B. Swinney said, on 20/12/2013 at 12:06 am

    I have really enjoyed all the posts about the suitcases…the empty ones are just as informative about the person as the full ones. Makes you wonder what was packed in them and how they might have been put to use in the day to day routine of the owner. Maybe the items were given to the sister or other family members. Wonder what other journeys of adventures the suitcases were taken to…? There are still unanswered questions and allows the person to come to live in the minds of those that view the posts. I have appreciated all the posts and look forward to reading about the empty ones as well. Thank you for sharing your vision of art with us.

  11. Tania M said, on 15/01/2014 at 12:17 pm

    Jon,
    I don’t remember how I found you blog, but it was because of the Willard Suitcases. I subscribed to you blog because I wanted to see more.
    I am always happy to see a new post from you, they are all well written and have beautiful photos (I really loved your vegetable stock posts and had never thought to do that, thank you).
    I don’t always get a chance to read the post right away (as is evident by my almost month long delay here), but I keep them in my inbox until I have the time.
    Thank you for your beautiful work, and the empty cases are no less beautiful or interesting than the full ones.
    Tania

  12. Maura Sircus said, on 24/01/2014 at 8:33 am

    Jon,
    I love the sensitivity and reverence with which you document each suitcase. It feels like staring through a keyhole at a life long forgotten. Please, please, please let us know when your second Kickstarter launches.
    Maura

    • joncrispin said, on 24/01/2014 at 8:35 am

      Maura,thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It means a lot to me. Best, jon


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