Death masks 2

Charles 1 Comment

Here’s the story condensed from a Guardian report, 27 September ’07:

John Joe “Ash” Amador, a 30-year-old American, was executed for the 1994 murder of a San Antonio taxi driver. He went to his death, still protesting his innocence, with an armful of lethal sodium pentathol and the words, “God forgive them, for they know not what they do. After all these years, our people are still lost in hatred and anger. Give them peace, God, for people seeking revenge toward me.” To which he added, as he slipped away: “Freedom … I’m ready,” and, finally, “Wow.”

During his final weeks as a resident of Texas’s death row, he had been in touch with Baroness Von Carrie Reichardt, a ceramicist who operates out of a studio called the Treatment Rooms in Chiswick.

“The Baroness”, as everyone seems to know her, has long been campaigning against the death penalty in the US and has been in correspondence with Amador for the past year or so. When it became clear that all his appeals were likely to be turned down, Amador asked her if she would join his wife and family as one of his five witnesses when he took the long walk.

The Baroness is a friend of Nick Reynolds, a sculptor who specialises in death masks. So when she said she was going out to witness Amador’s death and make a film about it, he suggested coming along and making a mask, so that the person whom the Texas justice system was about to snuff out would have a sort of life after death.

“It is very hard to put into words what it’s like,” she says of the execution. “It is totally surreal. You have to try to smile for them and he was trying to smile for us. It’s very hard and it took him nine minutes to die, but when he said ‘Wow’, he was looking so serene, it was as if he was looking at the angels.”

Once Amador had been certified dead, his body was taken to the local undertakers, but they were not too receptive to the idea of a cadaverous Englishman making a death mask on their premises, despite the wishes of the family … So Reynolds and the family carried the still warm body out and placed it in the back of a hired car for a one-hour trip to the woods near a town called Livingston, where Amador’s widow, Linda, had a small cabin. “We just put him on the back seat, unzipped the body-bag and took his arm out so that his wife could hold his hand,” says Reynolds.

At the cabin, Reynolds set to work. “It only took about two hours because we were paranoid that the police would arrive and ask what we were doing with the body,” he says. “So there we were, hiding out in this little wooden bungalow in the middle of the woods, like a Friday the 13th movie. I don’t normally talk to the bodies, but I did on this occasion. He looked so young because, although he was 30, he had hardly been outside for the past 12 years.”

Read the entire article here.

Here’s the film. I can’t embed it, so click here.

Hat-tip to Rupert Callender for this.


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