Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, 2009

Despite their reputation for emotional restraint, Victorians indulged in complex and elaborate rituals surrounding death and mourning. No better example is the case of Leland Stanford Jr., the only son of Leland and Jane Stanford, who died at the tender age of 15 from typhoid fever while on a visit to Florence, Italy. The family’s immense loss became the impetus for several commissioned monuments and works of art that perpetuated their son’s memory. One of these splendid memorials was the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum (now the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts) that was founded as part of the university that bears the child’s name.

Waterston became fascinated with the university and particularly the story of Leland Jr. and his grieving parents. Working with the university staff, he explored the library’s Special Collections and the museum’s Stanford Family holdings. In these repositories he found paintings, photographs, and documents relating to the life of Leland Stanford Jr., as well as objects such as chalkboards from séances held by Mrs. Stanford after her son’s death. The story of the founders as studied and interpreted by artist Darren Waterston resulted in an installation that combines his twenty-first century paintings and works on paper with nineteenth-century objects and artifacts relating to the life and death of Leland Stanford Jr. Inspired by the elaborate theatrics of a Victorian mourning parlor, the artist transformed the Halperin Gallery into a space for reflection on death and dying.

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