Monthly Archives: July 2010

Watching ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ as research

Who Do You Think You Are on the BBCNot many people can use television shows as a form of research for a project.  I have been watching this season’s Who Do You Think You Are with much interest, and falling all over myself to find a pen and paper to write out quotes.  This week’s episode, with the delightful Mr Rupert Everett, gave me great material.  Some of his strung-together words (also known as ‘sentences’) were brilliant:

It’s just fascinating how the ripples of energy and things and action cross time.

I may have shrieked something like ‘Yes!  I know I know.  That’s what this big, long project of mine is about!’ but of course, he didn’t hear me.  Which is a bit of a downer, because I think he may actually find what I am doing mildly interesting.  Or perhaps not, because it isn’t all about him.

At the end of the story, after having discovered so many secrets, amazing stories and devilish characters, the episode ended with this remark:

‘The generation before you definately influences your generation.  Either you go with it or you react against it.  It’s like joining the dots because I understand more about my father, looking at his ancestors.  And therefore, maybe, I understand more about myself.’

Which made me pose the question: Am I reacting against or going with what I know?  And how many times did my own family veer from one extreme to the other?

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Identity

Sorry.  No pretty image today.  I am leaving this photo space blank for a reason.  When I was trying to think of an imagine to portray ‘identity’ I could think of nothing that was big enough, interesting enough, understated enough to add to this post.  A fingerprint.  But what does that say about a personality?  A photograph.  They never tell the full story.

As I have been developing this art tour, doing the research, small experiments with materials, choosing different colour schemes, etc, I am aware that the overall theme of this project must certainly be apparent.  Identity.  That’s what this is about.  Not only looking at your own immediate family to gather clues about your own person, but digging deep into the history of a family, to try to find similarities in how they lived, decisions made by your great great grandmother, where they lived, what they did for a living, and all these things.  It’s fascinating to think that decisions made in early 1800 have effected how we live today.  When Maria Kingwell moved from Exeter to Dudley to be with her husband…did she even imagine that within a few years time she would be whisked away from her country to live on the frontier?  It has been interesting speaking to my dad about his dad.  Of course I only knew my grandfather through my own eyes, not really thinking about him from any body else’s point of view other than my own.  I have found these conversations with my dad to be very revealing into the character of Grandpa.

This week has also been a life changing week for my little family of two and one dog.  Josey (yellow Labrador) has been incredibly ill.  We have been to the vets several times with her in the past 2 weeks and yesterday things just seemed to have taken a turn for the worse.  Thankfully, today, she seems to be on the mend.  I just found that yesterday I was in a panic.  Please, God, don’t take away what little family I have.  So, as I was horrifically worried about the little one, I was also facing the decision we have made which is one of those decisions that can change a life forever.

And somehow, doing this study into ‘identity’ couldn’t be more apt.  Because eventually, she (or he or they) too will want to know where they have come from, too.

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The answer is ‘Yes’ but no mention in the book

Last night I phoned my Dad.  It was quite late for me (10 pm my time) and a good hour for him (4pm his time) and a good conversation was had by all.  As I was speaking to him on the phone, my sister was busy rifling through a big old suitcase of photographs that belonged to my grandparents.  I wish I could have transported myself in that instant, to sit beside them and make the discoveries that they were making.

‘Oh!  Colie’s found a photo of, er, I think it’s gramps in a Rugy uniform.  Is that gramps?  Hm.  He looks like a Green.  Must be.’

I am sorry to say, but I was taking notes as my Dad spoke about the family.  My scribbles are all over a scrap piece of paper, which has now been added to my Research files.  I have found some good leads for my grandfather’s parents, which was going to be my next family to study.  I know I have been bouncing all over the place with this project, starting from Exeter, moving to Dudley, hopping to Nebraska, back to Exeter.  I guess it was when I sat down and thought about my grandfather the other day, when I realised I didn’t know very much about him.  And to be honest, of everyone and due to his obvious, immediate influence on my family, I wanted to study him most urgently.  Where he lived, where he studied, his ambitions (to be a lawyer, apparently), his early family life, how the heck he got from a farm in Eastern Nebraska to Washington, DC  and then placed in North Platte, Nebraska. What drove him (and I don’t mean his pink Cadillac).  In order for him to have become the person that he was, he obviously had to have been influenced by his parents.  So what was their story.  The son of a man born in England.  And that man having travelled to Nebraska when he was just a small boy.  I think it is going to be easier to take it back, generation by generation.

My task now is to buy books about farming, life, the driving forces of life in Nebraska in the early 1900s.  It’s the context.  I want to know context.

With that said, I am aware that with all the great stories to tell, there are still those stories that should remain within the family.  I am not going to sacrifice things that should be kept private for the sake of this touring work.  Not everything in a family needs to be revealed.  Although I am happy to divulge certain things about myself, I do need to respect the privacy of others and well, coming from a not-very-forth-coming family, it makes my task a little bit trickier to keep all parties at ease with this rather intrusive project.

However, I can reveal that although my grandfather is not specifically listed in the book I have just finished reading, my Dad has confirmed that Grandpa was involved in the case to get to the bottom of the truth to reveal that horrible woman’s dealings, unlawful activity and so on.  And I trust my source, but of course will aim to find some sort of documentation that backs it up.

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A means to an end and my involvement in the Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Tenements

Here is yet another installment in the story of the Art Tour and How It All Came To Be.

The past several weeks have been filled with the sewing machines whining into the night, trips to fabric shops, discussions, plans, sketching, printing, framing, making.  I have a small stand in the West End Fair during the Edinburgh Festival.  My work for this event has been largely based on the buildings that make Edinburgh what it is:  A fabulous and diverse city.  Artwork of castles and tenements are propped up all over my studio.  My next pieces will be towards the brutalist arthictecture spectrum, of which every city can boast a piece here and there.

What is all this about then, if I am not spending all waking hours creating works for the tour instead?

Well, my lovelies, as most things in life, it comes down to funding.

Although I have secured funding for part of the tour (the end leg, to be precise), and although I am eternally grateful, thankful, pleased, want to offer up a first born if I could have one, I have not secured enough funding for the entire project.  Things to consider:  Studio hire time, materials, research, travel, more travel, more travel to do more research, shipping the work, putting up the work, displaying the work…it all adds up.

I have many plans up my sleeve to deal with this enormous issue that has been losing me some sleep at night. This tour is happening.  There is no question about it.  I just need to be a bit creative when it comes to sorting out the issue of funds.

My participation in the Edinburgh Festival is part of this solution.  I will also be creating small artworks, using the same themes of the exhibition, to generate more funds for the project.  Other plans include smaller items, household items, such as printed tea towels.  Ah yes.  Is the title of this blog becoming more obvious now?

So please note:  I have not been sidetracked by the smaller, immediate issues.  I am working towards a means to an end.

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Is he? Isn’t he?

My evening read is starting to get suspenseful for all the wrong reasons.  I am currently reading ‘Evil Obsession:  The Annie Cook Story’ written by Nellie Snyder Yost.  I mentioned this book in my previous post, but I now seem to have read up through the years to the time when my grandfather possibly arrived on the scene.

The story so far:  Annie was such a hateful, hideous, sick woman living on a farm near Hershey, Nebraska, from early to mid 1990s.  She was completely obsessed with money and power and did everything to obtain these.  Some of her atrocious acts include forcing her sister and her neice to hard labour by forcing them to work on her farm, killing her own daughter during a bout of rage, killing several of the county poor who were in her care (some with her own hand, some by breaking down their spirit to the point that they committed suicide), her whip seemed to be her method of choice to enforce her rule.  And yet…and yet…so many officials in North Platte during that era were corrupt and did nothing to help the unfortunate people that were under her charge.  Annie was involved in running brothels as an additional way of making money.  She also conducted many shady deals with several people in power during that time and was closely connected to the Al Capone of the Midwest.  And mind you, this list just barely covers her actions.  At some points I have become so disgusted by this awful woman’s actions that I have had to put the book down and get on with something else.

I guess the interesting part of the true story is that I am now reading into the 40’s, as Annie continues her bargaining, side businesses and manipulations.  I think that my grandfather arrived on the scene in the late 40’s, early 50’s and as I read I think ‘He could be mentioned in these last few pages!’  So the suspense for the end is mounting, and I can’t bring myself to skip ahead to see how it all ends.  Well, I know how it ends for her because obviously she dies.  But unfortunately, it doesn’t end for everyone else who suffered under her rule.  They had to carry on through the rest of their lives, carrying their physical and mental scars.  And then they people had children and grandchildren that are currently kicking about the midwest today.  In some way they, too, will be carrying the burden of Annie’s hatred.  Unknowingly.  It’s what is passed down from one generation to the next, through our actions, our words, how we live our lives.

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In Nebraska I feel free

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When it comes to describing Nebraska, I always begin with the sky.  How to describe it?  I didn’t notice the sky there until after had lived in the UK for many years.  A few years ago when we went back to visit my family, my breath caught as I took in all the sky that stretched forever in every direction.  It made me panic.  With all the space around me, it felt like I could easily just float up into the sky.  Okay.  I realise that sounds a little bit off my head, but after living in the UK and being hemmed in by narrow roads, trees, hills, small lanes, streets barely wide enough to let a car through, it made the difference between here and there vastly noticable.  In the UK I often feel restricted and claustrophobic.  In Nebraska I feel free.

How shall I represent this feeling of space and freedom?  You, Nebraska Stories, deserve a big, expansive sheet.

I’m not sure how much of this is just in relation to the land or if it’s based on any perceived attitude as well.  I am still finding the rules that underpin most interaction in the UK confounding.  Recently, I read a brilliant book written by Kate Fox titled ‘Watching the English.’  I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry.  So many times I have fallen on the wrong side of the rules, not quite understand the weird looks I was receiving or feeling like I wasn’t on the same plain or like my response wasn’t the unspoken prescriptive response.  I have slowly begun to learn these rules to try acclimate (acclimatize) myself with the natives.  I am now throwing ‘u’ and ‘a bit’ and ‘quite’ into my sentences.  Of course I have to knock that off when I speak to my family.  God forbid I should sound anything other than their daughter, born and raised in the Midwest of America.

At this stage in life, although I miss my country, I am content where I am now.  Living the England, and now Scotland, has been an incredible experience.  People often ask me if I have plans to move back to the states.  I feel that this decision is a bit out of my hands.  My husband is very much tied to his own country and he is doing rather well at work.  Did Maria (Kingwell) Green feel the same when she found herself suddenly cast in the role of Farmer’s Wife, feeling tethered to the land and not having the option to return to England?  How odd that an ancestor from over 150 years ago and I should have this in common.

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