will you speak with me tonight?

a proposal for "Outside In" at the Philadelphia Art Alliance

My work begins with informal research into cultural phenomena now obscured from popular memory by the fog of time. My proposal for OUTside IN involves the intertwined lives of Margaret Fox and Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, historical figures with connections to Philadelphia. Embraced by a 19th century culture hungry for strange spectacles and otherworldliness, these two figures, both explorers in their own manner, will be evoked by a large-scale wall drawing, appropriately sited in a city so committed to summoning ghosts of the historical past.

Margaret Fox (1836-1893), originally from Hydesville, NY, was one of three sisters responsible for igniting what was to become the trans-national movement of Spiritualism, the belief that the human personality continued to exist after physical death and could communicate with the living through the agency of a “medium.”

Dr. Elisha Kent Kane (1820-1857), a naval surgeon and a native Philadelphian from a prominent family, was one of the most famous Americans of the ante-bellum period. First gaining renown for his exploits during the Mexican-American war, he was catapulted to fame after undertaking two missions to the Arctic in search of the British explorer Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition. These early expeditions into the still largely unknown polar regions with well-stocked, specially-design ships and the latest technology, were the exploratory space missions of their day.

Margaret Fox and Dr. Kane met in 1852 in the bridal suite of Webb’s Union Hotel, where the Fox sisters conducted their first séances in Philadelphia for a curious public. Their difficult love affair, complicated by their common celebrity and incongruous social spheres, repeatedly waxed and waned until 1857 when Dr. Kane died in Havana, Cuba. His funeral procession, unrivalled in mournful splendour until that of Abraham Lincoln, advanced up the Mississippi and then by train to Philadelphia. Once here, his body lay in state in Independence Hall.

[In a curious historical footnote, Christine Wetherill Stevenson, founder of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, had a contemporary relative by the name of Elisha Kent Kane Wetherill (1874-1929) (such was the regard for Dr. Kane in this city.) A painter, he was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy under Thomas Anshutz.]