A month after her father died of sepsis, Jennifer Rodgers began creating maps.
She took a large piece of paper, splattered it with black paint and then tore it into pieces. Then she began to draw: short black lines mimic the steps she walked in the hospital hallway during her father’s hospitalization.
“It was a physical release of emotion for me,” she says.
The layered pieces document her father’s seven-month fight with sepsis, a life-threatening condition when the body’s response to infection causes inflammation that can destroy organs. They also represent her feelings of uncertainty and grief.
We talked with Rodgers, a high school art teacher in Philadelphia, about how she created the artworks. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you choose maps to visualize your father’s illness and death?
I found a book called Geography of Loss by Patti Digh, and that has been my guidebook. A map organizes a place in a certain way and we use them to get us from one point to the next. My maps have become a way to get from a point in my life where I was very much grieving to another point where I came to a resolution with some of it.
In Strata of Memories, gold plays a key role. Why is that?
The gold comes from the idea of using a precious metal to heal. The Japanese have an art called Kintsugi that is over 500 years old. Instead of taking a bowl or mug that has been broken and throwing it out, the pieces are put back together with gold. The gold heals the broken piece of pottery and actually makes it more precious and more valuable.
In The Last Day there are a series of lines that appear to be intentional.
The day he died we spent a lot of time in the waiting room outside the ICU and it was a lot of walking back and forth. I wanted to mimic the physical steps I took as the whole day was unfolding, almost as a way for me to honor that day.
[The red is] symbolic of sepsis and what it did to my dad’s body, and watching someone die from sepsis, which was truly devastating.
Is it difficult to look back on these images?
To look at them, not so much. To talk about them and actually think about what was happening at the time, that is definitely difficult. At the same time it feels very healing to me. I don’t know any other way to get through what became the most challenging time in my life. I didn’t know any other way than to make art about it.
Rodgers has three pieces on display through June 10th at the Henry Gallery at Penn State University, Great Valley Campus.