Artist Statement: Therese Gleason

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but I know what it is to be haunted, and I do believe that our homes contain the energetic imprints of the dreams, emotions, memories, and experiences of those who lived in them before us—and to which we add our own. This piece is a palimpsest, much like living spaces, particularly older houses, are: the words of my poem are layered over a piece of wood onto which a delicate floral design was hand-painted to resemble wallpaper a century ago. Layers of wall paint are also visible: a jagged bitemark of cream, beige, and red reveals the previous paint colors underneath the blue (our choice) where this piece was sawed and torn from the wall when we widened a doorway. To me, this mark looks like a wound, a scar, and calls to mind Stanley Kunitz’s poem, “The Knot,” in which the speaker declares, with consternation, “I’ve tried to seal it in, / that cross-grained knot / on the opposite wall, / scored in the lintel of my door, / but it keeps bleeding through / into the world we share.”

This piece started as a poem, based on my research into the history of my 100-year-old-home in Worcester, Massachusetts. Gradually remodeling over the last seven years, we have come across artifacts and ephemera (such as the plans, clamp, and fuse box labels referenced in the poem); when we renovated our kitchen last year, I found crumpled newspaper and junk mail from the 1940s stuffed into the horsehair plaster walls, presumably for insulation. As we slogged through the months-long process, I collected strips of the wallpaper that was exposed bit by bit, and later used these to construct the frame of the house in my piece. When I decided to superimpose my poem onto the raw, found materials on which it was based, I included a few lines in my own hand, to echo the handwritten script I found on the labels and other artifacts. I made sure I included a scrap of wallpaper that had a clock face on it, to reflect the slippery element—and passage—of time, its ability to stand still and move forward and backwards at once.

At its heart, this piece is an elegy, a tribute, to the home’s original owner, and designer, Arthur Gordon Webster (1863-1923), a renowned physicist who died by suicide. It seems fitting that this piece be published in 2023, the anniversary of his death. It’s important to me that his legacy is honored; he trained Robert H. Goddard, who built and flew the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket—today, Goddard is hailed as a hometown hero while Webster’s accomplishments are shrouded by the stigma of his manner of death. I think again of “the knot” in the poem by Stanley Kunitz, another native son (whose father died by suicide in a Worcester park before he was born), how Webster’s essence persists: “I hear it come / with a rush of resin, / out of the trauma / of its lopping off. / Obstinate bud, / sticky with life.