Over the course of the summer of 2016, the studio faculty in the School of Art, Design and Art History at James Madison University collaborated in making a series of collodion portraits based on the sitter’s studio practice. Greg Stewart, the sculptor in the studio program, assisted in building a moveable set which could be rolled out into a courtyard area into the sunlight at the photo building, Memorial Hall Arts Complex. The series was an opportunity to fine-tune technique while having fun talking about ideas and collaborating with colleagues.
The Sisters of MythOfUs
On August 21, 2017, three members of The Metal Shed CoLab, who had traveled separately to view and photograph the totality of the solar eclipse in and around Asheville, North Carolina, encountered a collection of eclipse study materials of local mystical practices unprecedented in modern times. The three photographers, Lyndsay Crump, Sarah Phillips, and Rebecca Silberman, who had initially traveled independently to the path of the totality, decided to meet after R. Silberman made a startling discovery of an apparently old hand-written dedication in a used book at a downtown shop called Earth Magick. The title of the volume was A History of Asheville, Keepers of the Oracle and the inscription read, “To Sisters Rebekah, Sarah and Lindseigh, On The Eclipse.” Shocked by the coincidence of the names written on the flyleaf (although with alternate spellings), Silberman asked at the counter where the book originated. She was informed that it was a reproduction of a guide of sorts to ancient lore and practices of the area, carried forward from mythologies recorded in some of the oldest known tracts in history. Since the unlikelihood of the inscription was far too astonishing to deny, the shop attendant, a Ms. Cottingley, invited Silberman to an exclusive eclipse ritual taking place later that afternoon. With Crump and Phillips within hours of the same location (another stunning coincidence), Silberman was able to secure permission for them to travel with her to the given location in the nearby foothills. Ms. Cottingley insisted it was to remain entirely private for its proper and eminent execution. In the hours following, however, Crump, Phillips and Silberman would find a collection of work, research, and monument to the eclipse and those who perform it--by will or, as Ms. Cottingley stated, by that which binds them--the rituals related therein.
Upon arrival at the indicated site, (notably and without explanation relayed by locals as “sankewa adallah,” an apparent bastardization of a native American term for something like “witches’ copse”), Crump, Phillips and Silberman discovered a seemingly deserted grove, sparsely but notably inhabited by monuments of collected items placed with some intention, along with a white sheet and three glassy figures with crystal tears trailing off their faces, chests and arms (later described as effigies likely representing the Sisters of MythOfUs). On arrival at approximately 3:56 pm, just after the proliferation of the totality, local time, the figures were placed under an opening in the trees above, just large enough to reveal the now-partially obscured sun. The figures glowed with the leafy partial eclipse projected onto them--and through--their translucent surfaces. Next to the figures, slightly adjacent to the left, was a lens made of what would appear to be a large glass bowl, filled with water (saltwater specifically). Object sculptures, in an arrangement later discovered to be of an astronomical from, were dispersed about the grove as well. Ms. Cottingley, notably, was nowhere to be found. It would be below the surface, however, that they’d make their greatest discovery.
To the western side of the apparent site of said ritual sat a single shack. After about an hour of encountering no one in the immediate or expanded vicinity, the three, who had carefully documented the artifacts, decided to enter the door, left ajar. It was in this structure, which led to a sizable opening underground, that many of the artifacts included or replicated here, were found. The underground seemed to include primitive living amenities and a massive store of eclipse-related artifacts, records, and monuments. Most notable among the findings was a much older copy of the book discovered in the Earth Magick shop, clearly well over 200 years old containing an unidentified language, roughly, it appears, transcribed into English, the text of the story of the Sisters of MythOfUs, included below (Footnote 1). It is this story, it is believed, that Ms. Cottingley and presumably unseen others, were attempting to replicate for the totality period. Additional findings would include star charts, a topographic map of the region, many archaic books (and some untranslated texts,) and notably, missing persons reports for no less than 42 women from the region surrounding Asheville from 1642-1912, annotated and pinned together. It was also discovered through these texts that the name of the city of Asheville originates in the story of the Sisters of MythOfUs, who must shed their tears to fill a giant lens that sets the world ablaze each day, creating a (symbolic) landscape of ashes.
When the three finished their documentation and subsequent search for Ms. Cottingley herself, upon exiting the underground structure, found all evidence of the outside collection and ritual remains (casts, monuments, footprints, even) to have been entirely eliminated. After a search for more than an hour, and an inquiry with the local police, Cottingley was never found, nor were any records of substance of her existence at all. After a month of searching, the local police deemed that no death certificate could be issued as no birth certificate existed on record, nor tax or residency records. Papers found in the underground structure indicate a history of hospitalization in the local mental institution under no fewer than seven different forenames, to include “Lilith,” “Azalea,” and, most recently, “Craig.” In September, an Agnes Cottingley of Chapel Hill claimed kinship with Ms. Cottingley as her niece, and was awarded full custody of her supposed property. It is with the permission of Agnes Cottingley that we have some of the works shown here in replicated form or on loan from the late Ms. Cottingley’s personal collection.
The Sisters of MythOfUs are identified with the Oracle of Delphi. They are sometimes called the Graiai or Grey Sisters or the Three Witches (as from Macbeth). A transcription of an obscure ancient scroll seems to indicate that the Sisters of MythOfUs, the matriarchal version of another incarnation of this tale, predates its better known brethren, The Myth of Sisyphus. In the original version of this otherwise familiar patriarchal myth, the Sisters have created a giant salt water lens, into which they weep tears of regret each night (but they also use the lens as an observatory by which to chart and celebrate the night sky). At day break, however, when they witness the hubris of man, their fury is reawakened and the salt water lens focuses the sunlight from sunrise to sunset, scorching the earth and leveling all prospect for change. Each night they return to the regret of their daily fury and destruction and refill the lens with their tears anew, while also contemplating the heavens for a few brief moments of restored hope for the future. And then without fail, the following dawn, they resume the cycle of wrath and obliteration, burning the world to ashes once more, their unfortunate fate perpetuated for all of eternity.