Filed Under Art

Stonecipher: a Book of Seasons

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.


The Afternoon Magazine's "Stonecipher: A Book of Seasons" Features recording of Bea Nettles interview regarding her work Stonecipher on WILL radio program, The Afternoon Magazine Source: Will AM Date: 10 November 2015


Spring and Summer May Day Ruby flowers ring lavender stone maze Shepherd shields furry newcomer lamb Parsley sowers weed brush borders Barrow wheeler, clay hacker, sprinkle strong peat Small rains force flora mantle fuller Joy jumper, brookbank skipper, wade claybrooks flood Swift finch, haven weaver, wing Merrifield miles Blue herron, white crane, silver starbird hatch Salmon fisher bear battles brooks broad current Keen dew waters elder berry bowers Craig lister, funk rock singer, coil frisbie Childs cloud castle mounts Trees bloom vermillion Winters victor, jolly jester, early merry may. Summers Call Cherry carrier, peach creamer, spears dill pickle Young ponder truelove, youngblood love Shell finder boys cover leasure beach Arms, chin, face burns tanner Mayberry meadows frame lacy cotton smock Ball catcher fellows munch franks ham burger Greenman, roseman, wiseman weed Appleman, pearman, plowman seed Henry, Harry, Ryan speed Dust coats bullock roper, camp bush rider Fleetwood groves shade penny lane Plush moss banks rivers way Swan waltz combs june pool Southern grove wells nightingale call Bent blue English oaks sink low Hardy farmer burrows summers sweet fields Rising green wheat.
Fall and Winter Falls Nicewander Summers vineyard withers Hedges curl Green trees redden Hill burns sharp golden sparks Harsh nettles madden pepper black bull Weary workman downs stout beers Belting rains power welling creek Chestnut woods trimble Wise householder stocks winters heater wood Crabtree leathers Brash beavers carpenter westbrook woods Heath fox burrows brown mink warrens House sparrow fears keener barnfield hawk Marsh mallow feaster mounts straw bales Trick treat comer goers sample candy hoard Noble ash shields Saint Mathews church Rough gust teeters gray parrish gates Pilgrim peoples want grandberry jelly Moody light falls Brownfield turner seals woody seed ransom. Winters Force Winters sharp beard tufts rough white borders Bent birch branch falls northway Silver buckler hooks ice spear hilt Violet bridges grace black cobble stonestreet Ford driver fears rear fender bender Heater bills rising Fairchild shivers, buckles tweedy vest Woolen weeks foster bacon fryer, pancake eater Sellers ponder day, downing good strong teas Trees snap power during bower sleeter storm Sterling frost sheets temple bell Ambler wills winters knell Flowers dearth powers sowers hope Wolf spoor marks weasel trail Partridge hunter, woodcock catcher crouch underwood Crews cross winters dull north bays Glass moon beam wells west Long yen yang whiteside wait.



Bea Nettles, “Stonecipher: a Book of Seasons,” ExploreCU, accessed May 20, 2022,