I was approached by a professor teaching Diversity in Art at Iowa State University.
For the class final assignment, students propose an acquisition to the permanent Art on Campus Collection that would increase the diversity of representation in the collection, and democratically the students in the class select one to put forward for consideration to our acquisitions committee.
The students proposed 'Big Heart' with this statement:
" There is diversity in everything people do, say, and believe. It is exceptionally represented in art. A single work of art can carry a hundred different meanings. Meanings interpreted through culture, religion, and past experiences pave the way for numerous connections that build bridges between people and across time. The beauty of art lies in its ability to elicit so many different interpretations. This image raises so many questions. Not only do you wonder who she is and why she is a prisoner, but you can question contemporary issues of race and racism through the artist’s reimagining of a historic portrait. Race and racism are often difficult to talk about. By visually representing something that is often ignored, it invites discussion, debate, and introspective thought. The more the issue is seen, the easier the conversation will become. "
Big Heart was selected to be added to the permanent collection. I did a series on Prisoners in victorian times. This woman, Mary Morst, was sentenced to 18 years in the Penitentiary for murdering her husband. Morst’s mug shot, taken upon her arrival at the Penitentiary on 14 October 1912, clearly shows she is pregnant. On 13 January 1913, Morst gave birth to twins: Joseph and Martha. She was pardoned in 1921 where she was able to regain custody of her children who were in an orphanage.
Marry suffered long-term emotional, mental & physical abuse even during her pregnancy from the husband she eventually murdered. I had even heard counts of rape.
I wanted her story to be told and heard.