Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February 17, 2015

On February 21, 1924, Vera Crichton was arrested with another woman by the New South Wales police and charged with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" for a third woman.   She was released on bond, with orders to appear if needed in court in the next two years.  

That, along with what is probably her mugshot at right, are all we know about Vera Crichton.  

What we don't know about Vera Crichton is everything else.  Where was she from?  Did she have a lovely singing voice?  Were her hands huge and red from doing manual labor?  Did she smell like violets?  We can't know.  

What does "conspiring to procure a miscarriage" mean? Anything, really.  It could mean talking about the possibility of obtaining an abortion, or obtaining information about an abortionist, or walking a friend to the abortionist's office. Then, as today, "conspiracy" means whatever the authorities decide it means in the moment.  Whatever Vera and her friend did, they were unlucky enough to be caught.  

Vera's overwhelming allure rests on the beauty of this photo.  She looks directly into the camera, without guile or reserve.  Her oval, symmetrical face is entirely without emotion.  She is beautiful.  She has amazing wild hair, which appears to be either brown or red.  Her eyes are pale.  She wears a lovely crocheted top.  She has the certainty of youth.  

"Free Vera" by Lizbeth Turner
Many people have been inspired by the stark simplicity of this photo.  Several years ago I created a piece I called "Free Vera."  Vera does seem to be free, even though she was in jail at the time the photo was taken.  She is clear, determined, full of a quiet energy - all qualities I admire greatly.  I created this monotone assemblage on a 12 x 12 inch reversed cradled board.  Vera looks out from beneath a frame of wire mesh.  The number on the antique envelope scrap symbolizes the dehumanization of the criminal system.  I used antique papers in collage, along with molding paste for relief.   With all of this going on, Vera's face is still the focal point.  She commands attention.

"Free Vera" closeup

When I was choosing a thumbnail photo to represent me in my Etsy shop, I immediately thought of Vera.  My choice had nothing to do with the reason she was arrested, or with the time or place in which she lived. 

Everything I perceive about Vera rests entirely on this one visual image of her, captured in that small moment of her life.  What I feel about her comes from within me.  I recognize myself in her.  

She is resolute, offbeat, and entirely focused in the moment.  In my better moments, I am like that.  

Vera represents the part of me I value the most.