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By ROB STOUT



Published: Sun, May 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By ROB STOUT

SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR

Primarily known for the novels and short stories that for more than 60 years have made her a national treasure, Eudora Welty, during the 1930s, packed up a camera and set off with the Works Progress Administration to document the rural south.

Unlike the subject matter of other WPA artists, Welty found enchantment in the funerary of the Southern cemetery, especially those around her hometown of Jackson, Miss., seeing them as & quot;Life, all unopposed. & quot;

Stark in both images and words -- the timeless artisanship of a young mother and child captured in marble or the slowly decaying tablets of & quot;a hill-load of husbands and wives buried close together, & quot; -- the 90 photographs selected for "Country Churchyards" are, from a technical standpoint, spare and direct, much like the prose style she was to later develop.

Effects: This same spareness relays a strong sense of what Welty refers to as the sadness within: a young girl sleeps peacefully inside a seashell, a loyal dog sits forever atop his master's plot, and an eloquently dressed businessman stands as if awaiting his final meeting.

Other distinctive emblems catch her eye as well: ornate iron gates, lambs, birds, wreaths and countless versions of the Crucifixion cross. The artwork of death seemed more abundant then than now.

Welty's longtime friend, Elizabeth Spencer, in her insightful preface, writes that the author has always viewed death as a part of life. As evidenced by the release of these personally reflective photographs, the 92-year-old Welty has come to accept this inevitable transition with little fear.

Both life and death are equally celebrated through & quot;Churchyards, & quot; as well as a long forgotten Southern past.

X & quot;Country Churchyards, & quot; by Eudora Welty (University of Mississippi Press, $35).




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