A couple of good friends from Sweden asked me to explain/show more about my artist book/scroll, so here it is: “For centuries Buddhist monks have used meditation to obtain enlightenment. In the early 17th century Zen monks drew Enso circles with brush and ink as a form of meditation. More recently, physicians have employed meditation to successfully help treat certain disorders. I studied Buddhism and meditation after moving to S. Korea and sitting daily for long periods, handwriting repeatedly the words “no mind” allowed me to quiet my mind and body as well as to empty my mind. “No mind” is a Zen expression equivalent to being mindful, present. I made a scroll that became 1,6 meter long and it evolved into a series.”
My scroll book was later chosen for “Prescriptions” (Ap.21-Aug.14, 2016), an exhibition of book art about mindfulness, body/mind, art as medicine/medicine as art and artists’ books as illness narratives, to supplement Martha Hall’s exhibition of works as part of Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities symposium and workshop, organised by University of Kent and University of New England.
But, who was Martha Hall? In 1989, when Martha Smith Hall was on the verge of a new career (she was 39 then), close to completing her Master’s of Business Administration from Dartmouth’s Tuck School and headed for a high-powered job in advertising, she received her first diagnosis of breast cancer.
Remission from the disease followed a litany of treatments and for 10 years she thrived in business, rising to a director position. Then she received her second diagnosis: a recurrence of breast cancer, she quit her job and moved back to Maine, her home state. She molded her schedule around a streaming succession of treatments—radiation, chemotherapy, counseling, more prescription drugs than she could organize. And she returned to art, which she’d studied as a Smith undergraduate, not only for pleasure, but therapy. Eventually, she concentrated on creating artist’s books to express her experience in dealing with cancer, and through which she realized emotional release, communication with her loved ones, and the creation of a legacy.
Hall’s books, composed of poems, prose passages, ironic quotes by health professionals and striking images, are intensely moving in their directness and chronicling of a receding life. Her books achieve a rare balance of artistic beauty and poignant meaning. She continued producing books during the next five years as her health steadily deteriorated and her artistic ability developed substantially.
In 2001, Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books in Smith’s Mortimer Rare Book Room,purchased Hall’s The Rest of My Life, a poetic reflection on the duration of her treatment, artistically crafted in scribbled notes and organized in a box like a Rolodex file. Other books address aspects of her life with breast cancer, such as one titled Prescriptions; a piercing work called Voices: Five Doctors Speak; and a particularly moving card catalogue compilation of remembrances of similarly afflicted acquaintances called Ghost Friends.
Hall died in 2003 survived by her husband and two daughters. On the same year, Antonetti curated an exhibition of Hall’s books in the Mortimer Rare Book Room, which later traveled to Bowdoin and Wellesley colleges and Yale University. The exhibit I’m part of at The Beaney Museum in Canterbury, “Prescriptions”, loaned books from the University of New England to share her insights with a much wider readership.
“Martha the person was a victim of a dreadful disease, but Martha the artist was a healer,” “Martha shows us the catalyzing power of art. In over two decades of curating exhibitions, this has been the most significant, emotionally charged and personally rewarding project.” (Martin Antonetti, curator of rare books in Smith’s Mortimer Rare Book Room)