Library of Dust
The Oregon State Insane Asylum, opened in 1883 on a hill just east of Salem and renamed the Oregon State Hospital in 1913, became in part a warehouse for the state’s anonymous unwanted. When residents died and went unclaimed by family, their bodies were cremated with the ashes remanded to copper canisters, which in turn themselves got warehoused. Decades passed, the canisters blossomed forth with all manner of colorful corrosions, the hospital started getting shut down, well into the process of which, around 2005, with what remained of the hospital under new leadership, the canister depot itself came to light. The photographer David Maisel rushed to the scene to compile the remarkable record that has become the book and traveling exhibition, Library of Dust.
Fifteen writers, artists, photojournalists, historians, and cultural critics respond to David Maisel’s remarkable photographic excavation of a warehouse of ashes otherwise lost to time.