Clearing Jenny’s studio was hard and a painful experience. It was hard because we completely underestimated the sheer amount of stuff, and had only a short time before the lease ran out. And it was painful because the studio was full of her: her palette and easel, for example, both still with paint from the last mobile. Most items were personal and had relevance to Jenny’s work or working methods. There was a huge tension between needing to get the job done and not actually wanting to lose anything so precious.
After the funeral, as Jenny had wished, friends and family had chosen whatever works they wanted, but that had hardly dented the total of finished works left. There were pictures and paper reliefs on the walls and in the cupboards, prints and drawings filled a plan chest. Packing these was the easy part of the task as it didn’t require thinking about. But it did take time, and after we thought we had packed them all we found a hidden cupboard in the hall with another 30 paper reliefs.
Obviously we had to keep all mobiles and sculptures. But what should be done with unfinished works? These ranged from unsigned canvases and unboxed but apparently finished paper reliefs to a quantity of exquisite small cut out paper and wire shapes. Each posed a dilemma for us.
Clearly we had to keep the artist’s sources and records: scrap books, photographs, note and sketch books. What should we do with a life time’s collection of found objects: shells, stones, dried flowers, pots, curiosities, skulls: many were very fragile? And then there were books – a library of art catalogues and other books, some quite rare? And teaching materials? Carnival related memorablia?
Working tools and raw materials (innumerable brushes, crayons, oil and acrylic paints, pastels, pencils, felt tipped pens, paper and canvas) we gave away, happily, to a young artist. We were staggered by the quantity, which filled the back of an estate car.
We hadn’t expected to find a quantity of wire and metal in all gauges, together with spanners, saws, hammers, pliers, files and a small welding kit. That box was too heavy to lift: the mobiles are so light and airy, who would have thought all that was necessary to make them?
Possibly if we had been able to leave the clearance to a later date or had had more time we might have found it easier. We still don’t know if the decisions we had to take so quickly were right. Hard though it is, it would be better to think about these kinds of decisions in advance and if possible to talk to the artist about them. Of course no one wants to even think of a time when clearing the studio will be necessary: a conversation like that with Jenny would never have happened and certainly not the ideal, compiling an inventory together. Decluttering is not in many artists’ vocabulary – but simply listing the amount of paper stashed in various corners of the studio might be a salutary exercise. In the end, I suppose like most executors, we did our best to do what we thought she would have wanted.