Pasture memorial honors departed family members
September 1, 2022
It could be a scene from one of Willa Cather's novels, but it is not. Just into Franklin County on a minimum maintenance road, three dresses are placed in prairie pasture. These dresses represent the strong women ancestors of the artist, Kachina Leigh Martin, who lives in Reading, Penn. They are her maternal great-grandmother, Mildred; material grandmother, Anna; and paternal grandmother, Lucille.
In her Pennsylvania studio, Kachina pinned up a favorite photograph of her great-great grandmother holding her aunt as an infant with her grandmother and great-grandmother standing beside them at the farm south of Campbell. She was curious of the lives they had on the Nebraska prairie. She also had an interest in the Catholic saints even though she is Lutheran. This lead to researching her grandmothers' names associated with saints. Through her artwork, she combined the women and their qualities related to the saint with their name. Her project is named "Mother, Daughter, Sister, Saint."
Kachina made all three dresses from the same pattern yet each dress matches the personality of the woman it represents. Even the dress forms tell about the women. The dress form for her maternal grandmother, Mildred, is made of paper mache. Paper used for the form contained pictures and articles about misfits and outcasts to fit with Saint Mildred, who was generous to the poor and social outcasts. Kachina's great-grandmother worked at the home for pregnant girls, those with special needs and emotional issues in Beloit, Kan.
On the hem of her dress, Kachina hand-embroidered a quote about Saint Mildred. "It happened that the bellringer fell asleep before the altar. The departed Mildred awoke him with a box on the ear, claiming 'This is the oratory, not the dormitory!'"
Maternal great-grandmother Anna's white dress has blue birds with green eyes sewn on it. The blue dye for the birds has faded and only the eyes remain. Anna, the matriarch of the family, was born, lived and died in Nebraska. Saint Anna was the Mother of the Virgin Mary. In Italy Anna is known as a powerful older woman. The form for her dress has disintegrated.
Kachina has few memories of her paternal grandmother, Lucille. Kachina remembers her as small in stature. Her grandmother's comments were often critical of her mother. She remembers that Lucille often fell. The name Lucille has many variants. One is from lucia which means light. Stories of Saint Lucy are less lucid and clear much like Kachina's memories of her grandmother. Saint Lucy was burned at the stake. The form Lucille is made from a book of Braille. The dress is dyed with a burnt reddish orange. This dress has deteriorated the most of the three. It is the dress that Bob Banks, the custodian of the site has to stand up the most frequently.
When the three dresses were completed in 2015, they were on display at Studio 313, Kachina's studio in Reading. Yet Kachina knew they would eventually go home to Campbell.
On November 26, 2021, "The Ladies" were installed at the family farm site. The land now belongs to another farmer, but Kachina's uncle, Bob Banks, received permission from the owner to place the ladies where the buildings once stood. He and his daughter, Penny Sander, are the caretakers of the project. The dresses are secured by steel posts in a quiet pasture with bulls roaming and munching on the grass. Sometimes the bulls rub on the dresses knocking them down. Bob will then stand them up and secure them again. In the background wind turbines spin.
The three ladies, once stewards of the land, can witness the changing seasons and countryside. Their dresses show the hardships of living on the prairie. Mildred and Ana are buried in a cemetery not far from the site. Kachina now feels a connection with her ancestors.