Forensic Friday #14: Death In a Season of Rebirth

Dr. Eleanor McQuillen’s Crime Scene Painting Death In a Season of Rebirth

Death In a Season of Rebirth

This crime scene painting captures the essence of spring in Vermont, a.k.a. mud season. On the far hill the surest sign of spring, sap buckets, adorn a grove of sugar maples. Overhead, fat rain clouds collude with melting snow to turn quaint dirt roads into muddy trenches. Runoff from the hills choke the frozen river until it suddenly gives way sending massive chunks of ice down river where they snag on bridge abutments and form ice damns. In the midst of this seasonal rebirth, three crows alert us to a death, a truck has broken through a covered bridge compromised by the flood waters.

This scene offers a number of painterly touches worthy of note. The storm clouds are quite clear, but if you look even closer you will see my mom has scratched a light grain throughout the frame at a 45˚ angle depicting a heavy spring downpour. Soft light blue brush strokes following the curve of the landscape and increasing with intensity at the nape of the hill evoke the wetness of the snow and the cascading runoff. And one touch that you can only see from up close, is that the snow mounds next to the house and the barn have added layers of paint that create subtle dimensionality.

And then there are those damn black birds. I don’t know about you, but this series of paintings is making me wary of these creatures. As an avowed hypochondriac I fight death on a daily basis. Now, in addition to coping with some imminent, albeit imagined, disease or organ failure, I find myself shooing crows away as if they were the grim reaper himself. I swear that crow on the back of the truck is looking right at me.

Next week’s crime scene painting takes to the skies with Flying into Killington.

Teaching Opportunity

Adopt a detective’s perspective when looking at this painting and use three simple questions to frame a class discussion.

  • What is going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

Decide if and when to share the title of the painting as it may guide, or overly influence, the way students view the work. You will also need to decide if it is beneficial to share the back story that this is a crime scene painting and is painted by one of the crime scene investigators for her child as a way to share life’s thoughts and lessons.

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