It has been recognized since Mount Auburn’s early decades that the Cemetery’s aesthetic richness, educational value, and historic significance are derived in large part from the remarkable tapestry formed by its diverse collection of monuments and burial markers carefully sited in the landscape. In the nineteenth century, the Cemetery and individual lot owners commissioned a vast array of public art: monuments, structures, and buildings. Visitors, therefore, experienced the site as an outdoor museum as well as a place of burial. Today, Mount Auburn continues its dual mission of active cemetery and cultural landscape by striving to inspire all who visit and commemorating the dead in a landscape of exceptional beauty. While the Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery has long offered tours and programs to the public, in recent years we have further embraced our role as a cultural resource and have begun working with contemporary artists and art organizations to create original site-specific programming.
In 2014, Mount Auburn became the first cemetery in the United States to establish an artist residency program. Our two-year program supports the creation of new work by a contemporary artist inspired by his or her in-depth experience at the Cemetery. The resident artist is charged with creating works for visitors, drawn from their direct experience, that convey a fresh and innovative perspective of Mount Auburn. To date, we have awarded residencies to filmmaker Roberto Mighty (2014-2015) and composer Mary Bichner (2016-2017). Currently, we are delighted to be hosting playwright Patrick Gabridge as the 2018-2019 Artist-in-Residence.
We are excited to introduce Mount Auburn Cemetery’s 2020-2021 Artist-in-Residence, visual artist Jesse Aron Green. Jesse’s work has been exhibited at the Tate Modern; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Harvard Art Museums; the ICA Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, Bologna; and many other museums and galleries around the world. Jesse received a BA from Harvard and an MFA from UCLA.
Jesse has been visiting Mount Auburn since he was a child, when his mother, who studied landscape architecture, brought him on her walks to study the grounds and plantings. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Jesse would walk the grounds for respite. More recently, he has been here for memorial services as well. In his own words, “I’ve come for nature, for art, for introspection, and in mourning. As the Artist-in-Residence, I hope to do service to all of the functions that Mount Auburn plays in people’s lives.”
Over the coming months, Jesse will explore our grounds, immerse himself in our stories, and begin meeting with staff and stakeholders to conceptualize potential projects for his residency. He brings with him a keen interest in American art and history, along with a track record of incredibly diverse projects which he states “have run the gamut across media: everything from the most traditional of materials – carved marble sculpture, oil paint on linen – to photographs, prints in series, writings, performances, drawings, film and video-installation, and everything else besides.” Stay tuned for announcements and updates on his newest projects here at Mount Auburn!
Patrick Gabridge, Playwright
The Mount Auburn Plays: The Nature Plays and The America Plays
During his residency, playwright Patrick Gabridge wrote two series of plays inspired by Mount Auburn. In June 2019, we produced the Nature Plays, a series of five one-act plays that explored the rich natural environment of Mount Auburn Cemetery. The plays touched on topics such as spotted salamanders in Consecration Dell, birders at Auburn Lake, and historic debates between naturalists who are buried at the Cemetery. Audiences experienced the performances at various spots across the grounds, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the natural world. In September, we presented The America Plays. Mount Auburn was founded in 1831, during the post-Colonial era that would help define America’s identity. This series of five short plays, staged at sites across the landscape, brought to life the drama, philosophies, and struggles shared by Mount Auburn founders Jacob Bigelow, by sculptors Edmonia Lewis and Martin Milmore, and by strong women like Harriot Kezia Hunt and Charlotte Cushman who sought new opportunities beyond the social norms of the time. The journey through the American experience concluded with an immigrant story, featuring some of Mount Auburn’s Armenian residents. Audiences experienced the personalities and drama that lie at the heart of America’s first large-scale designed landscape open to the public.
Mary Bichner, Musician and Composer
Mount Auburn: Spring & Autumn Suites
During her residency, musician and composer Mary Bichner composed a series of new works inspired by Mount Auburn’s breathtaking landscape and landmarks, using her sound-to-color synesthesia to select the musical components that best “match” the natural color palette of each location. As Ms. Bichner completed her compositions in 2016, she participated in a series of “pop-up” concerts and gave talks about her artistic process. In early 2017, her Mount Auburn compositions were professionally recorded. Ms. Bichner completed her residency with two sold-out concerts in Story Chapel. Mount Auburn: Spring & Autumn Suites, the product of her Mount Auburn residency, is now available as a free digital download. Cemetery visitors may also experience Bichner’s music in the setting that inspired it through Mount Auburn’s Visitor app.
Roberto Mighty, New Media Artist
Roberto Mighty, Mount Auburn’s inaugural artist-in-residence from 2014 through 2016, drew inspiration from the sights, sounds, and individual stories of the Cemetery to create earth.sky, an immersive meditation on life, death, ritual, history, landscape, nature, and culture. The original version of his project, designed to be screened in Mount Auburn’s Story Chapel, premiered in full in November 2016. To make the films, music, images, and storytelling of the original exhibit available to audiences worldwide, Mighty completed his residency with the release of an online version of his project.
Tickets are now on sale for The America Plays, the second of two series of site-specific plays created by the Cemetery’s first Playwright Artist-in-Residence, Patrick Gabridge.
Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded in 1831, during the post-Colonial era that would help define America’s identity. This series of 5 short plays, staged at sites across the landscape, will bring to life the drama, philosophies, and struggles shared by Mount Auburn founders Jacob Bigelow, by sculptors Edmonia Lewis and Martin Milmore, and by strong women like Harriot Kezia Hunt and Charlotte Cushman who sought new opportunities beyond the social norms of the time. This journey through the American experience concludes with an immigrant story, featuring some of Mount Auburn’s Armenian residents. Experience the personalities and drama that lie at the heart of America’s first large-scale designed landscape open to the public.
Mount Auburn’s collection of monuments and funerary art give meaning and spiritual significance to the Cemetery’s historic landscape. Dating from the early 19th century through to today, every memorial contributes to the qualities that help make the Cemetery “a site of comfort and inspiration to the bereaved and the public as a whole.” The wide-ranging diversity represented in the monuments, from contemporary flush markers to lavish Victorian sculptures, helps create the aesthetic richness and unique texture of Mount Auburn’s designed landscape.
Preserving our historic monuments and buildings is a priority, and a challenge. After years of exposure to New England weather, many monuments, particularly marble memorials, now require an extra level of care and maintenance to protect and stabilize them. Beginning in 2014, the Friends of Mount Auburn has been working closely with Cemetery preservation and curatorial staff on a multi-year initiative to raise funds to conserve the most significant monuments on our grounds. To date, seven significant monuments have been professionally treated by a sculpture conservator working with the Cemetery. Plans are currently underway for conservation of the Whitney and Fagnani monuments. Both memorials are urgently in need of care and conservation.
Beatrice Fagnani Monument
1857 Marble sculpture of a morning glory flower
Sculptor: Patrizio Piatti (c.1824-1888)
The delicate morning glory sculpture commemorating Beatrice Fagnani (1855-1857) has eroded and cracked over time. The monument is urgently in need of repair and conservation as the flower has broken in half and is being carefully stored inside until repairs are possible. Carved out of Italian marble by the sculptor Patrizio Piatti in 1857, this significant monument is a tender example of Victorian iconography. The morning glory flower, with its fluted form and overlapping leaves, closes in the evening and blooms in the morning, symbolizing death and rebirth. The inscription on the small pedestal is a poem by Maria White Lowell. Conservation will include washing the monument, carefully re-attaching the broken flower and filling any voids or cracks, and treating the monument with a stone consolidant to slow deterioration.
Charles Whitney Monument
1883 Marble sarcophagus with sculpture of an angel and putto on a raised pedestal
Sculptor: Nicola Cantalamessa-Pappotti (1833-1910)
The dramatic Whitney Monument was commissioned by Charles Whitney (1828-1887) for his lot at Mount Auburn. Whitney, who operated one of the largest lumber enterprises in the United States, commissioned the sculptor Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti to create the large, marble memorial in 1883.
The monument depicts a magnificent angel with outstretched wings atop a large sarcophagus with a putto (a winged figure of a child) holding two floral wreaths at its base. Significant losses are evident, including the large, ornate left wing of the angel and the right foot of the putto which have both been broken off. The monument also shows signs of considerable erosion, and there are cracks and fissures throughout the marble. Conservation treatment will include washing the entire surface of the monument, removing dark gypsum crusts with a handheld laser, repointing the joints in the granite stones that make up the base, filling in all cracks and voids in the marble, and applying consolidant to the marble to stabilize the surface and slow further loss.
Mount Auburn Cemetery was one of the earliest places where the American public could view art. From its earliest days, the combination of artistic monuments, history, and nature was thoughtfully designed to create a dynamic, evolving, and beautiful landscape. Today, our artist-in-residency program serves as an opportunity for the nature and history of Mount Auburn to continue to offer inspiration. Bringing that inspiration to theatrical life, 2018-2019 artist-in-residence Patrick Gabridge has written The Mount Auburn Plays, a series of ten short plays that will be fully staged in our landscape in the coming year. First, in June, a series of five Nature Plays will explore the rich natural environment of Mount Auburn Cemetery; next, in September, five America Plays will explore American identity and history through the lens of Mount Auburn.
Post-performance moderated discussions and free showings for high school are supported by a grant from Mass Humanities.