Thursday, 27 January 2011

Aunt Aggie's Boneyard

I've been meaning to write about this long vanished place in Lake City Florida for some time, but it's my recent musings on memory and ghosts, and how these things exist around us and how we acknowledge this, that made me think again of Aunt Aggie's Boneyard.

Aunt Aggie built her garden out of animal bones, making trellises and strange structures to create a lot of the shapes familiar in a garden of plants. It was well visited in the early 20th century and people used to come and visit and write their names on the bones. Everything I have read about this place suggests that people were never scared by its macabre strangeness - yes except for one human skull hanging they were all animal bones, and Aunt Aggie was a good Christian which would have comforted some, but I still find it interesting that a garden of bones was a place of delight and rest, not fear. Maybe it was Aunt Aggie's belief and desire to create something beautiful that rubbed off on them - she made visitors bouquets, told stories and fortunes - she had created her own bit of magic and opened it up for the rest of the world.

This makes me think of how the feelings of those who create a place can somehow be absorbed by that place. That like the idea of memories floating all around us, feelings and intentions could work in the same way - inhabit the air with an emotion, good or bad, that we pick up on. I have certainly been in seemingly pretty places that have felt sad and disturbing, yet here is a garden of bones that was calm and delightful - a place for magic and fondness.

I also love how she had a small homemade natural history museum with bottled snakes and alligators amongst other things. Perhaps along with the general fascination with such things, there is an appeal in that this was a personal collection - the whole garden is an archive in a way of one woman's dreams and thoughts, and I think there is an inherent intimate appeal in being let in to such places. As my friends know I am fascinated by monumental versus personal history - in theory as well as in terms of objects and monuments themselves. With a monument we are told represents an important event, our experience of the memories of that event is always mediated by someone's idea of what we should feel about something - it is difficult to have a truly personal experience of it. With something like Aggie's boneyard visitors have access to a personal vision - a monument to real memories (why I think Wilfred Owen's war poetry is a much better monument than the generic war memorials in every English village. Their power is in their words, the names of the dead listed, not the stone structure - if they did not have those names written on them, that personal touch, their power would be diminished) - and I would argue it is these personal monuments that memory really is contained in and is more accessible to all - it can be felt.

So long live eccentric gardens, outsider architecture, personal collections and archives, diaries and all personal visions that could never be created by a mediator. There is a wonderful power in the architecture of homemade.


laurak/ForestWalkArt :) said...

i just had to tell you...that i just found out about this woman Aggie and her Bone Garden...this past weekend.
and my first thought...other than how cool it would have been to know her...was that, i MUST be related to her!!
i love bones. i collect animal bones...found in fields...left by hunters mostly...and decorate them!!

i was just searching to find out more about her...and came upon your blog...i LOVE this posting...and just wanted to let you know!! thanks!! :)

alice maddicott said...

Thanks! And yes it would have been amazing to go there and meet her and hear her stories...