A handful of years ago,I came across the above 18th century handwritten note while sorting through a bin of scrap paper at Old English Bindery in North Vancouver, BC, on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples - sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations. In 1773, at the time that this script was penned, these ancestral lands were void of colonial settlers, a detail that I often think of as I navigate my own sense of place here in Canada.
The artifact above is a mystical document originating from nearly 4,500 miles away, and over two centuries in the past. When I uncovered this relic, I was working as an assistant to Richard Smart, a third-generation master bookbinder from the UK. I held this position for a few years, all the while stowing away ideas for my own artistic practice, and holding onto this unique, macabre treasure.
In 2019, I began writing a fictional story based on the three names found in the text of the note: Henry Newburn, Malin Sorsbie and Joshua Watson. In 2020, I was awarded a grant for visual artists from the British Columbia Arts Council to adapt this narrative into a multi-channel video with an accompanying installation. The project, titled, Joshua Watson’s Leg (In Four Movements), is documented within this website.
this was Wrote on Sunday 24th January 1773
by Malin Sorsbie, with a Bone which was taken out of
Joshua Watsons Leg the Same Day, by Henry Newburn
Newcastle upon Tyne... End