The Deathworks of May Elizabeth Kramner

A mixed media installation by The Poyais Group
Tents, pavilions, text, self-performing reed organs, incandescent light bulbs
2011

The Deathworks of May Elizabeth Kramner is a mixed media installation by The Poyais Group (Jesse Ball, Thordis Bjornsdottir, Olivia Robinson, & Jesse Stiles). They provide the following account of the work:

May Elizabeth Kramner (1867-1977) was a recluse and an artist of the type now dubbed "outsider." Her life work consisted of a model of the town in which she lived. Each house was represented by a tent and on each tent was sewn the manner of death of a person (or persons) who lived in that house at some time during her life.

May Elizabeth's work was witnessed by no person outside of her immediate family during her lifetime. After her passing, the Deathworks were discovered by Charles and Dorothy Winright, the acclaimed anthropologists, but were destroyed in a fire shortly thereafter.

In 2011, The Poyais Group recreated the artworks based upon Dorothy Winwright's notes from her initial survey of May Elizabeth's tents and pavilions. 

"We hope that the brilliant striving of this hermit may prove inspirational to others in this complicated time. We hope too that our tent-city will delight and astonish." - The Poyais Group, March 2011


The Deathworks of May Elizabeth Kramner were first exhibited at the Allen Priebe Gallery of Art at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. In the wake of the exhibit a team of reporters from the Advance Titan set out to investigate whether or not May Elizabeth Kramner was a "historically real person." Working in consultation with archivists from the Smithsonian, the team determined that The Poyais Group was "evasive," writing:

The artists were vague as to how they had acquired the background information for the exhibit, whether true or not.

"There is a hole in a building at the corner of Montparnasse Boulevard and Averno Street in Chicago," Jesse Ball, one of the artists of the exhibit, wrote in an email. "I often go to this hole when I am in need of information. I speak into the hole and ask questions. Then I stuff money into the hole. Then I listen, and am told various pieces of useful information."

According to a Google map search, Montparnasse Boulevard and Averno Street do not exist in Chicago.