Morning pages collage by Lani, textures by DJ Pettitt
While working on collecting backgrounds for collages for Kelly Kilmer's class Memories and Reflections I started looking at an article (or what was left of it) in Selvedge Magazine on an exhibit at the London Foundling Museum. ‘Threads of Feeling’ is an exhibition of the mid-eighteenth century textiles preserved in the records of London’s Foundling Hospital. Almost 5,000 of these fabrics survive, pinned to the Hospital’s admission document for each child. They form the largest collection in Britain of everyday textiles from the eighteenth century. Both beautiful and poignant, each reflects the life of a single infant child. As I looked at these scraps of cloth, tiny mementos of the moment of parting as mothers left their babies at the Foundling Hospital, I couldn't help but notice that most of the infants were dead within the year of admission. And yet I couldn't find any explanation or even acknowledgment of this fact.
So I googled mortality rates of foundling hospitals and the results were horrific. For abandoned children, Foundling hospitals seemed to be a kind of death sentence. In Dublin, between 1796-1826, virtually all of the fifty-two thousand infants placed there died. High mortality rates in foundling homes persisted well into the nineteenth century. The absence of proper nutrician was considered the prime noninfectious cause of death by Dr. Routh in 1857, along with what he called an "abuse of the recumbent position of infants," or excessive swaddling.
There is something about all this that is very compelling. My guess is that all of us can feel the horror of these stories, from the sorrow of the mother to the desolation of the foundling. My guess is we all have inner foundlings looking to be held and recognized, cared for and loved. Wouldn't it be a good thing to create a way to metaphorically care for the inner foundling, to make sure it has enough proper nutrition and isn't bound up with too much swaddling?