Seven years ago, after the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, an outpouring of sympathy came to Blacksburg from around the world.
Much of it, in the form of objects: candles, cards, letters, stuffed animals and works of art. Archivists at the university have carefully cataloged and preserved these sacred objects, some of which will be on display for the first time this week.
In a show of solidarity that has become a signature of our time, spontaneous shrines sprout up after extraordinary tragedies. After the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, the university received more than 90 thousand objects, some of which had not been opened in years.
“We wanted people to actually be able to go into the boxes to see where they’re stored but of course not have to go thru the boxes. So we set up a place where people can actually pick up and read , which we don’t normally do in the exhibit," said Robin Scully Boucher, curator of the exhibit called From Then to Now at Newman Library.
Part of the exhibit highlights objects that came specifically from people in and around Blacksburg, a physical representation of the community standing together. Boucher describes a moving piece made by Blacksburg Resident and Town Environmental Manager, Carol Davis.
"For instance we have eggs. She created an egg for each of the victims and those have been shown every year because they have this wonderful sad correlation. They're also a sign of renewal, but she dyed them black with the name of each person on them."
The exhibit also includes hundreds of photos taken by anyone and everyone -- a crowd sourced documentation of the tragedy and its aftermath.
One of them was Ashley Maynor, then the general manager of the Lyric Theater in Blacksburg. Maynor is working on a documentary called, “The Story of the Stuff” Boucher is using excerpts from it in the exhibit.
"She did it on super 8 camera, so it has this fragmented quality to it that makes you feel like you were very much in the moment and because its silent. And when I saw that for the first time I had a moment where I had to take a deep breath because I saw April 16 in a new way,"she said.
In part 2 of this report, we’ll hear from film maker, Ashley Maynor, about her work in progress, “The Story of the Stuff”. She says, she didn’t know she would be making a film when she went out on the drill-field with her camera in the days after the tragedy. It focuses on the objects –the stuff – which has come to symbolize our collective mourning and which for some, helps light a path out of the darkness of grief.