Michelle Elzay
A 3-by-3 arrangement of dye transfer prints, featuring a collection of broken bottles, pottery and other small items.

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Essex Boston & Family 1
Collection of the artist

Michelle Elzay’s careful arrangements of cups, pipes, and shoes recall an archaeologist’s reunification and examination of ancient discoveries. Many of the items presented here were recovered starting in 2015 through salvage archaeology at a nineteenth-century trash pit on a property that once belonged to Essex Boston (1741–1827), in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Born enslaved, Boston became a businessperson and property owner after his manumission at age eighteen. Despite the family’s contemporaneous influence, Boston’s history was largely forgotten. In Elzay’s work, the objects once touched, used, and then discarded, are sometimes paired with contemporary ones, such as the beef shank, at top center, which has been set beside a shank bone found at the pit. Together, the historical objects and those that reflect Elzay’s extensive research hint at the Boston family’s and its community’s customs, likes, and socioeconomic roles.