The Grim Reaper at the Fair, Part the Second, Details: Dispatch Number Ten from the 2013 Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair

Every year, The Fair serves up the superb and the extraordinary.

In our last post, we visited Simon Hickman’s statue of the Grim Reaper.

In this post we return.

In its entirety, the Grim Reaper is impressive.

Let’s leave the entirety, and get to some of the details.


The handle of a scythe is properly known as a “snathe”, or “snath”. The Grim Reaper’s snath is of tulip poplar. Not just any tulip poplar. A tulip poplar that was planted years ago by Simon Hickman, near his studio. One day, after much searching for the snath for this scythe, he noticed that what he was searching for was near his own door. It had grown into the perfect shape, and, he’d planted too many of the little trees anyway.
If it had been a snake, it might have bit him.

The main structure is made from the trunk of an elm tree that once grew at Bob Gothard’s house on Music Street in West Tisbury. The summer after the tree was cut down and the trunk was carted off to Simon’s Studio, it began to grow again, and put forth leaves, despite being separated from its roots and top structure. So strong is the power of life.

Hollowing out this trunk was a time-consuming effort in itself. No precise accounting of the hours spent on this work exists, but that labor has extended over years, and is not yet done.

The head, scythe blade, and skeletal parts are of rosewood. Years ago, Doug Dias acquired a load of exotic tropical hardwood, which had somehow found their way to the Vineyard. Those trees, or some of them, ended up behind the old Nobnocket Garage, which became the Artworkers’ Guild, which was then eventually torn down. The wood sat in the back of the lot for a while. About thirty years ago, for a few hundred dollars, Simon bought one of these boles, the rosewood one, which he knew would come in handy some day.


Cowl of elm, skull and scythe of rosewood, shoulders sheathed in lead, cloak of copper.

Neck detail.


Nice lighting, no?

The next photo contains details of the arm and upper torso.


A friend who is familiar with anatomy says “All the bones are there….”. The only inaccuracy he could find was a slight mispositioning of one of the metacarpals, but hey, if you’re the Grim Reaper, you can do whatever you want with your metacarpals, can’t you?

The Grim Reaper’s shoulders are sheathed with sheet lead. What an appropriate choice of material. For thousands of years, sheet lead has been used for roofing and flashing purposes. Lead is soft enough to form and to work easily. Copper nails are soft, too, but are hard enough to penetrate the lead, and the two metals have similar enough electropotential so that galvanic corrosion is minimized.


The great cathedrals are often lead-roofed. During the Great Fire of London, molten lead from St. Paul’s Cathedral is said to have flowed, waterlike, through adjoining streets. When the Huns set fire to Reims Cathedral during World War One, molten lead poured from the mouths of the Cathedral’s gargoyles.

We slide downward along the overlapping hammered copper sheet scales of the cloak. Watch the sharp points. Go down, not up, please. The Grim Reaper knows about one-way trips.


As the scales meet in center of this seam, they reflect and rereflect copper to copper, and so take on a ruddier color.

At floor level, light gleams on sharp edges.


Black of sooty firebrick is the background of this image.

At the the base of the statue,  lead-sheathed pointy shoes peek out from under the sharp scales of the hem of the Reaper’s copper cloak.

Pointy shoes have a long history. They were at times called “Cracows”, as they were thought to have originated in Poland. There are more modern English pointy shoes known as “winkle pickers”, named for the utensils used to extract the meat from periwinkle shells. They were also called “poulaines”.


Isaac Asimov wrote: “Named after its inventor, the poulaine was a shoe whose tip was as long as two feet for princes and noblemen, one foot for rich people of lower degree, and only half a foot for common people. Such shoes proved a hazard among the French Crusaders at the battle of Nicopolis (1396) when they had to cut off tips in order to be able to run away.”
To run away from the Grim Reaper, I might add….


Here we get a glimpse of heel of shoe, of internal support structure, and some of the bolts and fasteners holding all together.
Notice the electric wire?
We’ll get to that directly….

At this moment, I got busted. Some lady saw me on the floor, with my camera peeping up under the Grim Reaper’s robes, and went to the Ag Society office, telling them that some perv was putting his camera up someone’s skirts.

What happened next?

Oblivious, absorbed in the immediacy of artistic concentration, I suddenly heard, “Oh! It’s you!”.

Fortunately, I got “busted” by someone who’s known me for about forty years. We had a great conversation about the statue, and about life in general. Conversation over, the camera went back underneath, and I carried on.

What do you see, when you put your camera up the skirts of the Grim Reaper?


You can see what that wire was for.
Inside, in addition to support structures, a steel arm and a copper plate, is a light bulb.

On the plate of sheet copper flashing is the name of the creator of the destroyer.


Name. And date. Roman numerals are more fitting than arabic numbers. One of the few advantages of roman numerals is that you can write them with just a single straight-edged tool. Even a flat-bladed screwdriver will work.

We end with a portrait of the artist, Simon Hickman.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s