Minnie’s Message is an installation comprised of 22 drawings created using a planchette. The planchette was invented in the mid 1800’s in response to the growing interest in spiritualism. The “little plank” was a precursor to the Ouija board and operated in a similar manner. The user would rest the tips of his fingers on the device and the “spirit force” would compel motion. A small pencil at the Planchette’s tip recorded any messages or drawings. The drawings in the series tell the story of Minnie Colligan, her guilt over imagined or real misdeeds, the search for her mother and her wish to find peace in heaven. The actual Minnie Colligan lived with her husband and children in Jersey City until 1958.
The drawings are displayed with the portfolio created by the artist. The planchette used to create the drawings is displayed under a dome.
Additionally, there are 4 drawings with text that offer information about the work:
1. an explanatory text drawing, which tells of the inception of the work 2. a text drawing on the historical Minnie Colligan 3. a text drawing listing the 22 questions asked of the planchette 4. a text drawing describing the planchette
The portfolio: The portfolio is constructed of cotton cloth over acid-free board. The center panel of printed material is vintage bark cloth, which has a pattern from the time period of 1930-1950, which corresponds with the research of Minnie Colligans’ residence in 272 Fifth Street. The color and pattern is also consistent with funeral symbols and colors.
The portfolio is fastened closed with ribbon ties, the long ties for the side closure are finished with iron beads and onyx skulls; materials and symbols also associated with the funereal.
A name plate, embroidered by the artist, states the title of the work, which is surrounded by embroidered palms; picking up the palm motif of the bark cloth, and bay laurel. These are both common design motifs on tombstones of the period. The embroidery is executed in black on black. The shape of the name plate follows the shape of tombstones popular of the period mentioned.
The drawings: There are 22 drawings executed in pencil on paper. They each measure 16” wide by 22” high. There is a hand written question in ink in the upper left of each of the drawing, recording the question put to the planchette. The drawing is the answer provided by the planchette. Most of the drawings are scrawled words. Some are images. There are 2 “portraits” and several “places” such as the stars pictured. (The stars are a drawing of heaven.)
The explanatory text drawings: These 4 drawings explain the elements of the installation: the concept, Minnie Colligan, the questions and the planchette. They have the Minnie’s Message name plate at the top, with a border of bay laurel leaves enclosing the text. They are the same paper and size as the planchette drawings.
The planchette: This is a found object, made of mahogany, with two wooden wheels, held in place by metal wire. The wheels swivel freely, to allow freedom of movement. It is approximately heart shaped, so the wheels form a triangle with a metal flange that holds a pencil at the heart’s apex. It is approximately 100 years old.
Minnie Colligan Minnie was born in Ireland in 1885. She immigrated to the United States in 1895 at 10 years old. She was married at 16 years old to Michael Colligan. They had 6 children. It is not clear when Minnie and Michael moved to 272 Fifth Street, in Jersey City, but they and their children are listed at this address in a 1930 Jersey City census. Minnie was 45 in 1930. She lived in the house until 1958, when the deed was transferred to her oldest son Vincent. He sold the house to Charles and Maggie Olson a few months later.
Planchette The planchette was invented in the mid 1800’s in response to the growing interest in spiritualism. It began as a small basket with a pencil attached to one end to record spirit writings. The medium touched the basket to establish contact and the spirit would write the message. This pencil basket evolved into the heart-shaped planchette, a more sophisticated tool with two rotating casters underneath and a pencil at the tip, forming the third leg. The French word “planchette” translates to English as “little plank.”
American and European toy companies actively peddled the planchette, making it immensely popular. Planchettes were easy to make and market inexpensively as novelties. However, interest began to wane in 1886 with the introduction the of an exciting new sensation, the “talking board”(later known as the Ouija board.)
© 2009 Arthur Bruso