I would never use this space for shameless self-promotion. I mean, who wants to read 500 words about my upcoming presentation at the library this Sunday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m.? Sure, it has an intriguing title, “When Cleopatra Came to Forest Park” and it’s about a fascinating African-American sculptor Edmonia Lewis and her masterpiece, “Death of Cleopatra,” which sat in Forest Park for 70 years.
But wouldn’t you rather read about another amazing artist we have here in town?
Elaine Luther is a stay-at-home mom, who turned to art to keep from going crazy. The mother of three has created some provocative works, using various forms of media. Elaine was responsible for the “EXPLORE” sign outside the library last year.
She also created some pieces that represent “Our Ladies of Perpetual Housework,” inspired by the fact her husband was gone long hours at work. Elaine even designed a suffragette-style sash with “Pockets for Women” emblazoned in red letters. Elaine hates purses and thinks it unfair that women only get tiny pockets.
It is her newest project, though, that really caught my attention. Elaine had spent part of her childhood in Germany, where souvenir scarfs were a sensation in the 1960s and ’70s.
She decided to create a souvenir scarf for Forest Park.
Seeing that our town is celebrated for its cemeteries, she began digging, so to speak, into the stories behind our monuments. Along the way, she dispelled some myths, like elephants being buried at Showmen’s Rest. She also developed new respect for the Haymarket Martyrs monument, when she met some people there from South America, who had made the pilgrimage just to see it.
This research led her to create a silk scarf she calls “Famous Headstones of Forest Park.” To get images for the scarf, Elaine went to the cemeteries last Memorial Day and photographed the elephants at Showmen’s Rest and the bronze plaques at the Haymarket monument. She also threw in some random images: a tree stump, a pair of shoes and two carved hands. As usual, Elaine was going for “visually striking and weird.”
The biggest challenge was to find a map of the cemeteries to serve as the centerpiece of the scarf. She finally got one from the U.S. Geological Survey and was shocked by how much of the village is taken up by headstones.
She also decided that the scarf needed more than images that commemorate horrible tragedies. So, the former art history student included a photograph of one of her favorite sculptors, Edmonia Lewis. Plus, she found photos of her statue, “Death of Cleopatra” from the 19th century, when it was still in pristine condition.
Elaine had been intrigued by the statue, since she moved to Forest Park in 1997 and learned the restored piece was now on display at the Smithsonian. In fact, she recently traveled to Washington, D.C., and got to see the statue in person.
Elaine and her family are happy to live in Forest Park.
“I really do love this town,” she said, “I really do want people to know about our little town’s interesting history. Some of them are amazing stories, like finding a national treasure right here.”
So, if you’d like to meet an eclectic artist, with a sharp sense of humor, come to the library this Sunday afternoon. You’ll recognize Elaine immediately. She’ll be the only one wearing a silk scarf, bearing reminders of our town’s buried history.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.