Doris Cross


Through a deconstructionist process, Cross eliminates and chooses words from columns in a 1913 Webster’s dictionary. The words, like concrete poems, reveal themselves, rising to the surface though acrylic and ink overlays. Her work is an in invitation to participate in the cataclysmic and shifting occurrences of the ordinary and profound. The effect of Cross’s murals is as if a fragmented image glimpsed through a magnifying glass had somehow floated free from to find itself projected, insubstantially on a wall, with the words in the murals achieving a poignancy in their isolation, surrounded by the recorded evidence of censure and destruction.

Doris Cross (1910-1994)

Doris Cross

Among unsung American treated-text artists, a jewel in our crown is word painter Doris Cross, a former New Yorker who moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico. Her major project was finding poetry and hidden text among the pages of the 1913 edition of the Webster Dictionary. The date was a homage to the Armory Show. With a host of poetic and word-text expressions (minimal, repetitive, lyrical, white-out, strike-out, painted over, etc.) she took the American standard guide of definitions, a project of focused certainty, and moved it deep into fields of mystery and uncertainty.

Cross’ work I deemed significant and devoted an issue of Kaldron to her. Unfortunately, I was unable to print in color to show fully the deep subtleties in her palette of word-and-color. She was one of many female practitioners promoted in Kaldron who opened new doors for us all. (In my limited way, I have tried to continue such promotion that began in 1973 in Salt Lake City when I edited and published Salt Lake City’s first anthology of women poets, Matriorakle.)

Sadly, like many of her female peers, Doris Cross was ignored. Unlike the ubiquitous Tom Phillips, this means discovery of her work is still charged with shocks of surprise. We stumble into a worldview rich in strange nuance and dark ironies. It is heart-stunning to open an old dictionary and find a live handgun secreted in a chamber cut into the yellowing pages of definitions. Like Harry Smith before her, Cross scatters a breadcrumb trail of zig-zag meanings and esoterica that will possibly be most valued not by her contemporaries, but by those who come next.

(from "Treated Text", a history of visual text art by karl kempton p. 275)