Maureen Cummins

Maureen Cummins. Photo Credit: Kelly Sinclair
2000 Hearst Fellow
Book Artist
Bearsville, NY

maureencummins.com

Research at AAS

Anthro(A)pology

The month that I spent at AAS came at a pivotal time in my career as an artist. When I arrived at AAS, I was in my early thirties and experimenting with altering pages of books that I found in antique shops, flea markets, and dumpsters. Being allowed into the treasure trove that AAS represented was, for me, a nerd’s dream come true. Naturally, though, it was not an option to overprint, burn, or alter the precious books that I handled in the reading room, so being in residence pushed me to think about new ways to work with historical imagery and text. Ultimately, I ended up finding ways to reproduce the materials I found, which also led to editioning and making more books for a larger collector base. Since that original visit in 2001, I have returned to AAS repeatedly, and created three more projects based on the collections.

One object that influenced an entire project was a mezzotint print of a Native American skull with a bullet through it. The image was from Samuel Morton’s infamous book, Crania Americana, a racist, faux-scientific text which set out to prove the “inferiority” of Native peoples. The prints in the book were so fine and exquisite, so lovingly created and beautifully crafted, that when I learned what the book was about, it disturbed me for days. I wanted to apologize for what this man had done. A title came to me, spontaneously: Anthro(A)pology.I spent the next ten years gathering similar racist images from historical text books, many of which I also found at AAS, in geography books and primers for children, but it was that haunting Morton image that originally got me thinking, and feeling.

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