Salem-based artist Amelia creates hand-painted, memento mori inspired wall plaques. Just a couple of months ago she started her Etsy shop “Death Follows”. I got the chance to ask her some questions about her art and the role death plays in her life.
You make memento mori inspired wall plaques. When and how did you come up with the idea for this?
I have always been captivated by cemeteries; by beautifully carved headstones, by beautifully landscaped garden style cemeteries, and by the fact that there were places reserved for visiting the dead. A few years ago I had the idea to make gravestone inspired art that I could hang on my wall, since there wasn’t much available to purchase at the time. I would often doodle little designs on post-it notes at my last job, of different themes and arrangements. Finally, last year I just went for it. I started experimenting with different designs, materials and techniques until I found what I liked. When other people showed interest in what I was making, I started an Etsy shop.
You live in beautiful Salem. Are the local burial grounds a source of inspiration for your art?
Definitely. I feel so grateful to live in such a beautiful and historically rich town. I spend quite a bit of time in cemeteries, and Salem (and New England) has some of the oldest burial grounds in the country. I love to study gravestone imagery to track different styles, trends, and feelings about death that people had throughout the years. Salem has gravestones dating back to the 1600s. These are so important for linking us to the past and giving us a small glimpse into a world that no longer exists.
What kind of tools do you use? How can one imagine the process of creation from draft till finished product?
I don’t use any fancy tools in my process. I start with a hand drawn design that I created, then I transfer the design using pencil onto a wooden plaque that I have painted black. I carefully go over the faintly transferred design with white ink a few times to get the lines to be as crisp as possible. Once I am satisfied with the results, I sign the back and attach a hanger so it can be displayed.
The motto of your etsy shop reads “Mortem Vitæ Sequens” (death follows life). What does this mean to you personally? And why do you think people need little reminders of their own mortality (like the wall plaques you make)?
This motto comes from a gravestone in the Burying Point Cemetery, the oldest burial ground in Salem. To me, this means that death is always with us. It follows us as soon as we are born. Life should not be wasted, as it could end at any moment. Awareness of our own mortality can help us to respect life, death, and the earth that we will one day be returned to. It is also important that we keep our dead close to us, remembering and honoring the people and animals who have passed on from our lives. Everyone who enters and leaves our lives influences who we are today.
If you had to choose, which tombstone symbol related to memento mori would be your favorite and why?
Gravestone symbolism is so fascinating. I was introduced to this subject in a history class back in college, and continue to study and be interested in it. One of my favorite symbols is, of course, the death’s head (skull with wings). It is such a straightforward symbol, the skull. Death, finality, the soul’s flight from mortal human. It is a very real reminder that you are standing on a person’s final resting place. There is a very interesting gravestone in Salem that depicts a skeleton (death) facing Father Time (mortality), who is carrying an hourglass and a scythe to represent the brevity of life. I am very excited by designs like this, that are more elaborate and detailed. They tell a bit more of a story and are very beautiful to look at.
What are your future plans with Death Follows?
Death Follows is still very new, but I am blown away by the support and interest that friends, family, and the Instagram community have shown. My plans are to keep adding new designs and try to work with different mediums. Hopefully I can help more people embrace death, and think about how it influences our lives.
Lisa v. D.