In the summer of 2011, local artist Bea Nettles began to photograph the last names on headstones that could be used as parts of speech. She went out early in the mornings and spent peaceful hours walking the rows of stones with only the birds for companions. She found this quest fascinating, and wondered how these family names came about. Often people were named after places, occupations, plants, animals, colors and personalities. Many names became familiar, but some were absolutely unique. All were found within thirty minutes of Urbana, Illinois, primarily in Champaign County.
Nettles says of the project:
"The project began when I first noticed and photographed a few stones that were parts of speech. I returned to my studio and began to put together short phrases, but soon realized that I could write entire sentences. The Idea of writing about the four seasons seemed especially appropriate, as this would be a way to illustrate the ongoing passage of time. Stonecipher is a four fold accordion book that is double sided. The book is rotated in the reader’s hand and because of its design is never ending, with no beginning or end point."
Those interested can view the artist book in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois.
Nettles has been exhibiting and publishing her autobiographical works since 1970. She has had over fifty one-person exhibitions including the International Museum of Photography at the Eastman House, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, Light Gallery and Witkin Gallery in NYC. Her works have also been shown internationally in major group exhibitions.
Nettles' images are in numerous collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Canada, the Polaroid International Collection, the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, the International Museum of Photography at the Eastman House, and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. Her artists’ books can be found in special collections libraries at universities including Yale (Beinecke), Washington, and Virginia.
Nettles taught photography and artists’ books from 1970-2007 at Rochester Institute of Technology, Tyler School of Art, and the University of Illinois where she is currently Professor Emerita. She continues to lecture and teach workshops internationally.