A proposal for the city of Salem, Massachusetts (with Peter McLean). 1992-2004.


16 Chairs and other related objects representing many of the factors and causes of the late 17th century witchcraft hysteria: the accusation, persecution, conviction and hanging of persons accused of witchcraft in Salem and surrounding communities.

When the aged and infirm Rebecca Nurse was tried and convicted of being a witch, she had to be carried in a chair from the Salem jail to the meetinghouse, where trials proceeded. Samuel Parris’s young daughters, niece, and a friend, who were found cringing and convulsing under chairs in his living room, helped set off a year of anarchy and chaos through the hunting and persecution of hundreds, and the murder of 20 persons accused of witchcraft.

Chairs are universal structures of comfort, power, position, role, exchange, responsibility, hospitality, governance, and sociability. They articulate order, meaning, and _expression. Chairs are ongoing props in the narrative of life, and here, with other related objects, slightly abstracted metal sculptures, they present an overview of the complex interwoven causes of the Salem witchcraft phenomenon.

The “chairs” will be permanently installed in a variety of locations throughout Salem. They are interpretive/educational artworks accompanied by written texts that explain their meaning. The chairs are meant to be surprising, unsettling and thought provoking. They are not decorative, exclusively aesthetic, or “site specific,” except in an historical sense. They will inform and challenge viewers with their simplicity and strangeness in a public space. They will lead to fuller understanding and appreciation of the difficulties of life in early colonial America, and raise questions about human nature and behavior today.

We see the purpose of these interpretive sculptures as primarily educational, and as a strong tourist attraction to the already rich trove of related material in Salem. These works attempt to give a fuller, more historical overview for viewers in easily accessible public spaces. By casually happening upon one or more of the sculptures or following a specific route, separate elements and representations will build a sense of discovery and connection among events, social forces and persons living during the period. We see the sculptures becoming markers for local places, attractions unusual in America; simple and strong, reminders of our origins, of some of our difficulties, and of our perseverance as a people.