Heather Perry

Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Deborah Wing Sproul

Second Committee Member

Laurie E. Hicks

Third Committee Member

Owen F. Smith


The central themes in this project explore the current social response to mourning in contemporary American culture contrasted with the social response in the 19th century. To fully illustrate this comparison, I articulate an experience of grief based on historic reference and firsthand knowledge. It is concerned with practices of grief, mourning and the work of death from both a contemporary and a 19th century perspective. It examines a history of the social attitudes, practices, ideas, tenets and relationships that framed a perspective on death from the Victorian era, contrasted with the attitudes that direct these practices today. It is an attempt to understand the trajectory of the change in social and personal attitudes toward death from the 19th century to what we understand today.

Through this work, I intend to examine current cultural attitudes surrounding death: misunderstandings; minimization and denial of feelings and emotion; and denial toward the expression of grief, known as mourning. I will be working within and between territories— between jewelry and sculpture; craft and art; wearable and decorative; and between beauty and pain. The research and resulting body of work advocates a broader awareness of the state and needs of people experiencing grief, and recognizes the healing potential of grief and mourning on both personal and societal levels by: 1) expressing the inner turmoil of grief through an outward sign of mourning; 2) communicating the physicality of grief through visceral weight, 3) aesthetically referencing mourning-centric Victorian era customs; and 4) non-verbal explication of the private world of the bereaved to the public world of society.

The result of this exploration is the execution of a suite of objects that bridge grief (inner turmoil as the result of loss) and mourning (the outward expression of grief), which are intended to signify a cultural practice that acknowledged death more directly and whose death ways may have been more balanced than what is practiced in American culture today. Because this project was borne from a personal awareness of loss, the study is limited to the European-American experience that reflects my own heritage and is the lens through which I interpret a cultural dismissal of grief.