Posted by: jeannineatkins | June 26, 2009

Art and Language: Lesley Dill

A few days ago I caught up with my friend Jess, nurse turned stress-management educator (“It’s so much nicer to bring people news that they can relax instead of, say, “I’m sorry to tell you it’s gangrene.”) We took a walk up to Smith College Art Museum, where we saw the most amazing exhibit called “I Heard a Voice” by Lesley Dill, a Smith alum.

Knowing nothing about the artist, I’d been pulled in by descriptions of her work as inspired by language, and …we were stunned. There was a great array of media – statues kneeling, some flat, or almost (mixing photographs and tea-stained paper) some brimming with thread or silk, , and one made of silver foil, organza, wire, to give you a taste. Most were of people with words coming out of or going into their heads or backs. She has Word Queens made of wire so you can see how the inside works with the outside. Sometimes small words are made from meticulously twisted wire; sometimes words are found embedded in saffron-dyed horsehair. Lots of quotes from Emily Dickinson, first and foremost, who Dill writes changed her life when she was fourteen, and also Pablo Neruda and some other poets had a presence.

When we left the museum, Jess asked, “Do you read much of St. Francis?”

“Um. Not too much.”

“The show reminded me of how he said, “Do I talk to the trees or do the trees talk to me?”

Did he say that? Maybe I should read more.



  1. Oh, I would have liked to see this.

  2. St. Francis or the Lorax: You make the call.

  3. Well, there is that Dr. Seuss rhythm.

  4. I was thinking “I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees” and didn’t even notice the rhythm. 🙂

  5. Maybe it’s a mutual dialogue with the trees.

  6. Of course!

  7. Breathtaking! And I love the trees quote. Another Francis of Assisi favorite of mine: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

  8. I really should read Francis of Assisi! In his bowlderized-Dr. Seuss guise or the real translations. Anyone who loves animals, trees, and the impossible is someone to know.

  9. Well, I started wondering about this last night, and after a little research I discovered that the actual writings are very few (rules of the order, a few prayers, etc.). Much of the rest of what we “know” St. Francis said comes from folklore and tradition, though this, too, is often quite old: There’s a 14th century collection called the Fioretti di San Francesco that’s the source of many Assisi tales.
    What is true and what is not is hard to tell at this distance. But to me it’s fascinating that this particular saint was the focus of so many stories.
    More than you wanted to know, I’m sure!

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