Artist's Statement: "The Widowmakers"

“Mourning is a form of memory. When we mourn, we keep our loved ones alive in memory. Without memory, the living lose connection with the dead. When the dead have no place in our lives, we have a different view of life itself.” (1887 in Mourning Art and Jewelry, by Maureen DeLorme).

Mary Abma examines the role that mourning plays in the preservation of memory and in our capacity to feel connected with the world around us.  Abma uses the ash tree as a metaphor for our broader lack of care and understanding as its destruction signifies not only a communal disregard for the natural context within which we thrive, but also our careless and wanton destruction of our resources.

Often described as “Widowmakers” because they occasionally drop their branches without warning, ash trees have all but disappeared from the landscape near Abma’s home due to the introduction of the Emerald Ash Borer. These trees whose life span used to number up to 200 years have been wiped out from many areas with astonishing speed. In Abma’s home county, ash trees represented fully one third of all trees. Their skeletons dominate woodlots there. Yet, to many, the loss is unnoticed or brushed aside as insignificant. 

Through her mixed media works, Abma painstakingly mourns individual ash trees by recontextualizing 19th-century mourning art in a modern, almost post-apocalyptic setting in which the imagery of ash forests as bombed-out cathedrals provides a context for the mementoes and sentimentalized expressions of mourning.