Born of Calamity (2019) Giclee on Hahnemuhle Pearl Paper in eds: medium 60 x 80cm (15); large 90 x 120cm (10); XL 120 x 160cm (7), XXL 150 x 190cm (3). All +2AP. Affordable Small Limited Eds on POD Satin Paper also available.
‘Of all the half legendary characters who roamed the frontier in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and whose exploits have provoked the imagination, one of the most amazing was Calamity Jane.” — Roberta Beed Sollid
Martha Canary, better known as Calamity Jane, was an American frontierswoman, professional scout and the best known heroine of the American Wild West. Orphan, prostitute, bullwhacker; likened to Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale, and long celebrated in novels, plays and movies. She was also a mother, living in one of the most dangerous eras to give birth.
Disease like cholera, smallpox and dysentery were rampant before the advent of sanitation and hygiene. Poverty, malnutrition, lack of contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and bad birth care leading to infection and fatal puerperal fever, are just some of the reasons it was harrowing to give birth in the 1800s Wild West. Yet it does better justice to understand how rather than childbirth being inherently dangerous, it was made so by those mitigating factors.
The overriding, touted memory of the Wild West is that childbirth was simply dangerous and that many mothers and babies died. What we overlook is that many mothers and babies survived. One of those mothers was Calamity Jane. Calamity drank, smoke, lived an immoral life, spent time with a host of miners with smallpox, and ultimately died young in her 50s. And yet, in spite of that, childbirth did not take her life nor that of her children.
There is little dispute that the Wild West was a dangerous time to bear children. Rather than blindly glamorise the women who were fortunate, a depiction of the Wild West’s greatest masculine heroines in the ultimate depiction of her biological femininity helps remind us of the maternal existence behind the paternal voice that has dominated the narrative of the historic American West. Birth still happened, often simply than always complicated. Mothers lived, babies lived. In the scourge of great calamity, humanity was still capable, and the generations it bore are its legacy.
“It’s easy for people to imagine that maternity medical technologies have been improved at the same pace as other areas of life, but other than Cesarean surgery we have no safer, less challenging way than the ancient process of getting babies out of their mothers. We need to recognise that technology is humbled in some very important ways by pregnancy and birth” - Ina May, Birth Matters
“Within cycles of childbearing and childrearing, women managed a kind of equity in which their placed their lives. Women were neither brave adventurers nor sunbonneted weepers. They were vigorous and given to realism and stoicism... Their aim was to be sufficient to the needs of the day… they bore new life even on the crest of upheaval… Their legacy to history was the survival of the family on the westward journey”. - Lillian Schlissel, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey
Photographer: Natalie Lennard / Voice of Calamity: Shary Connella / Calamity Jane: Leigh-Anne El-Barhdadi / Wild Bill: Martin Thomas / Other cast: Chloe Irwin, Phyllis Stace, George Dole, Bernard Jeffery, Cole Winter & other Laredo crew, Gary Lennard / Child models: L'nard children / Prosthetics: Davy Jones / Stylist: Rosie Stoward / Seamstress: Samantha Murphy / Costumes: Angels & National Theatre London / HMUA: Rachel Lisa Jones / Assistant: Daniel Lennard / Assistant & BTS photographer: Tim Charles Matthews / Prop Assistant: Chris Christoforou / Horses: Janet Rogers / BTS Camera: Beyond Content / Concept, script & video editing: Natalie Lennard