If you haven’t discovered Gallery Nuance, it’s a place you need to find. Located on the 100 block of Gay Street, the space boasts hundreds of works of art ranging from folk to fine, from photography to jewelry. If you like art of any kind, chances are you’ll find something to like inside the walls at 121 S. Gay Street. I always try to stop in there on First Friday because something interesting will likely be found there.
I learned recently that the gallery is stretching into another art form with their author series. It’s a pretty cool idea – the space isn’t necessarily used after hours, though I understand it can be rented for an evening. This particular evening, Dr. Bill Bass was the featured speaker, promoting the latest book in the Body Farm series, Cut to the Bone. The popular books are co-written by Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bass.
Dr. Bass, for those who may be unfamiliar was a long-term professor at the University of Tennessee. His classes won rave reviews for his great stories, but it isn’t for his lectures he is best known. He is the founder of the Body Farm, the subject of the novel of the same name by Patricia Cornwell and a center-piece of the current spat of Jefferson Bass novels. The farm consists of human bodies in varying degrees of decay and under a range of conditions. The idea is to expand knowledge of human decay in order to apply that knowledge to murder investigations among other things.
Known for casting an unflinching eye to the macabre, Dr. Bass did not disappoint, though the topic wasn’t rotting flesh, per se. It was burning flesh, as in cremation. He showed a series of photographs of different crematoriums he has visited from Ohio to Australia to Blount County. The owner of the Blount County facility was also present and joined him in answering questions.
It may seem like a more gentle topic, but it became a pretty good intro to the Halloween season as he showed pictures of actual cremations in progress. Knowing that the bodies pictured were those of the already deceased didn’t diminish the impact of seeing a human on fire. Which we saw repeatedly. He, of course, discussed the visual in great and detached detail. I suppose one man’s science is another man’s nightmare. We learned about how hot the fire must be (1650 – 1750 degrees by TN law) how much of the body is actually consumed in the fire (not the all of the bones).
Discussion then turned to the items which much be separated out. Think of how many of us have staples, prosthetic knees, bolts in our spines and so on, particularly if we are old when we die. The remaining bones are pulverized and then boxed for the family. According to Dr. Bass, most people in Australia are cremated. He showed photographs of burial walls containing the ashes of those who chose to be placed there. They have plaques with birth and death dates just like we do on tomb stones.
Of course, the US has been behind the cremation curve, particularly in the south. Much of that resistance goes back to the Biblical concept of the resurrection of the saints. The idea on the part of some is that you need an intact body to be resurrected when the trumpet sounds. It’s an odd idea given what happens to the body over time in any case. Helen Taylor of the East Tennessee Cremation Company, who was also on hand for the talk, said the current percentage is forty to forty-five percent who are choosing cremation. I wasn’t clear if she meant nationally or in our area, though I suspect the former.
She also mentioned that some families like to witness the process for their loved one. She said it is similar to families wishing to see their family member lowered into the ground. I’ll have to admit this one startled me. As a person who had just struggled to look at someone else’s family member being burned, I can’t imagine really wanting to watch someone I loved burn. And I say that as someone who wishes to be cremated. But then, there are many things we do at death that I’ve never understood.
So, it was an interesting and informative evening. Wine was available for $3 a glass and extensive, free hor d’oeuvres were spread along one wall beneath the paintings and photographs offered for sale. A crowd of several dozen gathered for the event and interest remained high throughout and many lingered to ask questions when the formal presentation was completed.
If this sounds like the kind of thing you might enjoy, watch for announcements of upcoming events. I’ll try to include them in this space. The authors scheduled for November and December are Bill Landry and Sam Venable, so if this night’s topic wasn’t your cup of tea, have no fear, nature and humor are on tap. Generally the events will be on Tuesday nights mid-month. And you don’t have to wait until then to check out the gallery. They are open daily.