In a warehouse at the Oregon State Hospital (originally called the Oregon State Insane Asylum) contains an unusual library, one comprised not of books, but of copper canisters of unclaimed human remains. Photographer David Maisel has photographed what is left of the deteriorating portions of the asylum, as well as the people whose cremated bodies were left behind.

Maisel's Library of Dust series focuses on this human component of the decaying hospital. Approximately 3,500 canisters still sit on shelves in the former asylum on the hospital grounds (Edit: The hospital is still open, although portions of it have been abandoned and have deteriorated), holding the remains of patients who died from 1883 through the 1970s. The oxidation of the canisters has created something unexpectedly colorful in this otherwise grim scene. To Maisel, they speak to the transformative quality of death, asking us to meditate on the matter within the containers.


At Maisel's site, you can see more photographs of the canisters, as well as the Library of Dust itself and a few other parts of the asylum. The "Found Objects" portion of his series is also quite fascinating, cataloguing the various paper objects found among the decay.

Library of Dust [David Maisel via Radiolab]


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