Category Archives: a good story

The Project

This is a project that began on July 16th, 2009, as I drove through Nebraska during that hot summer’s day.  This is an honest account of the life of this project, from beginning to end, not just an overview of the great and wonderful things that have happened along the way.  This is the truth, in all of it’s ugliness and beauty.  Because life is not a beautiful struggle.  It is ridiculous and complicated and wonderful and amazing and disappointing and glorious.

The official blurb goes a little something like this:

“Why did we come here?”

This question was the catalyst that began a two-year journey of discovery to uncover the story behind the 200-year journey that artist Cassandra Harrison’s family made from England to America and back again.

Following the notes and photos left behind by her late grandfather (a former FBI agent), Cassandra set out to re-tell the story of her ancestors’ migration from Ivybridge to Exeter to Dudley, then on to Nebraska, following their emigration to America in 1868.  Her strand of the story brings the connecting thread back to England, in Newcastle, 2009.

The Connecting Thread uses hand-printed textile images, bedsheets and pillowcases to create a living, tactile timeline.  The exhibition is about realizing how decisions made hundreds of years ago affect who we are and where we are today.  It’s about discovering another layer to our identity, appreciating the paths travelled by the people preceding us and giving life to the names on a family tree.

To see photographs of works in progress and completed artwork, please visit the Flickr page.

About the Artist:

Cassandra Harrison trained in Nebraska, graduating with honours in Fine Art and Art Education.  In 2002, she moved to England where she continued her work as an artist, creating works for commission for private collectors, a children’s book author and a solicitors partnership.  Harrison’s work has been exhibited throughout the country and was recently on exhibit in the Visual Arts Scotland Annual Open Exhibition at The Royal Scottish Academy Upper Galleries, Edinburgh.  This is her first solo exhibition.

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Filed under a good story, Dudley, Edinburgh, Exeter/Ivybridge, Nebraska, Newcastle upon Tyne, research, the process

Pink cadillac

Birthdays.  I am rubbish at sending my family their gifts in time for their special days.   I work and go about my life, writing down plans on my calendar and then I see oh yes, yes, it is infact October 18th and hm what a lovely day.  On the evening of the 18th I will be meeting friends for drinks or going to a movie or making a meal for someone or deciding perhaps I should use that evening as a work evening and OH MY GOD IT’S MY BROTHER’S BIRTHDAY TODAY! Gift-buying-on-time-to-send-t0-the-states fail.  So I called him and we had a good chat.  It was a bonus phone call in that I was able to talk to my little nephew who informed me that he had been making ‘good decisions’ in school.

Me:  “What kind of good decisions have you been making, William?”

Him:  “No hitting.  No biting.  No shoving.  No kicking.  No talking.  No running inside.  No stomping….”

(all of which imply that he had been doing these things)

I was grinning quite a lot my many thousands of miles away from that small voice telling me about his bad behaviour.  What a sweetheart.

So anyway, I needed to rectify the issue of having not produced a birthday gift for my brother’s birthday.  What could I find or buy or make?  I looked through the prints left over from The Connecting Thread and found the house in North Platte, circa 1950-something.  And parked right beside the house, my grandfather’s car.

From what I can remember of stories told by my dad and my aunties, my grandfather owned a pink cadillac during his FBI workin’ days.  How rock and roll.  How Elvis.  Why a cadillac?  I can imagine him driving his growing family in that massive pink ghetto sled (what the kids used to call something that big and boxy back in the 90’s).  I should ask my dad and aunties about their experiences in that rather stunning vehicle.

During my summer holiday to visit my family in Nebraska, one of my aunts told a story about clambering around Chimney Rock.  My grandparents had driven across the dusty plain and let the kids out to run around that gigantic landmark the pioneers used for guidance.  The kids had climbed quite a distance when my grandfather received a call (how?  This was in the 40’s or 50’s or something.  I imagine it wasn’t a compact little Nokia contact) demanding that he chase something/someone/leave wherever he was as he was needed elsewhere.  Their children were called for, yelled for, waved down and quickly they came scrambling down as it was of the utmost importance they very speedily dash on to whatever emergency was causing them to exit quickly.

When I visited Chimney Rock this summer, we could only get within a mile of that thing.  The idea of a big old car bumping along some small country road is an entertaining thought.  I can see the dust whirling around the car as they stop, the door pops open, releasing a couple over-excited children.

Later in his life, my grandfather acquired another caddie.  He must have been in his 70’s.  I remember visiting home one year and there it was, parked under its own purpose built car port.  Why did he buy that caddie again?  Was he trying to claw back something of his younger years or did he think that pink cadillacs were still a status symbol?  Who knows.

So anyway, for my brother’s birthday, I made him a small artwork of the house in North Platte, making sure to put the emphasis on the car parked beside the house.  I’m sure that not everything that happened with that car were as golden and sweet as I would like to think.  Families being families, I’m sure at several points there were threats to pull over to the side of the road if someone didn’t stop picking on someone else.

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How do you measure your own success?

Some quick scribblings and a few numbers listed on a scrap piece of paper have revealed to me that this project has been successful.

Just like that; I’ve deemed it so.

Seriously, I have thought a lot about what has happened in the course of the past two years and how I see my current position.  Where am I standing now and is it much different from where I started?  The view has certainly changed.  Instead of looking out on the Tyne River from my living room, I now look at a criss-cross of cobbled streets leading up to Dean Bridge in Edinburgh.  Instead of my table being covered in research into my ancestry, I’m now looking at completed commission pieces.  Instead of piles of funding paperwork decorating the outer edges of my work table, I have a tidy sum written out of money earned through funding, donations and requested works.  Somehow, I haven’t lost money on this project.  Even that fact alone is enough to make me feel incredibly proud and of the running of this project and thankful for the kind heartedness of family, friends and strangers.

What was I hoping to achieve with the Connecting Thread?  Good question.  I was hoping to engage with people on a topic that I find thrillingly interesting:  identity and finding it through the means of the people preceding you.  Good stories have been heard and shared and stored in my memory bank.  Friends have been made.  My human experience has been expanded tremendously due to the people I’ve met along this journey.  In turn, it is my hope that people have been affected in someway by the project, whether by walking through the artwork or by following the journey.  If any of this has mattered to anyone else, I would consider this work a success.

It has been important to me to do something meaningful with my life, reminding myself what it feels like to have a strong sense of purpose pulling you up out of bed every morning and making your steps through the day worth taking.  A fulfilled life is a purpose-filled life.  Don’t you think?  Although I like creating the smaller works for walls, I needed to prove to myself that I could do something with substance.  There is nothing wrong in making something for the purpose of adding colour or interest or beauty into a room, however, I needed to sink my teeth into something with depth, with soul, something with life.

So with that said, this isn’t the end.  There is still life in this project and I will continue to update this blog and write about the continuing journey of The Connecting Thread.

And also…there is always an ‘also’ because once one project starts to quiet down I feel the need to pick up something else and start running.  Once I flesh out the details I will be sure to let you know more about the Next Big Thing.  There will be another blog.  There will be another journey.  There may be a little bit of overlapping.

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Commission works in progress

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Now that the work is living in the Bioscience Centre, I have turned my attention to creating the pieces I have been commissioned to create. Busy. Keeping busy.
There are also efforts being made to secure a big space in Edinburgh as I would really love to display the work in its entirety in this fine city.
I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Final installation of The Connecting Thread

Can you believe that the final (ehem…so far….there are plans) installation of The Connecting Thread – a personal psychogeography is happening so soon?! After two years of planning and creating, it is time to string it up in the last venue, the last leg of the international tour.

Oct 2
5 – 7pm
Reception in the foyer of the Bioscience Centre (easily located off of Times Square)
There will be wine and me smiling insanely as I will be very pleased to see you there. It would be lovely if you could come along and celebrate this adventure with me.

Exhibition opening times:

Oct 3 – Dec 2

Monday – Thursday
8am – 6pm

Friday
8am – 5pm

I will be conducting collaborative Gocco workshops and a walk through of the exhibition on October 27th and 28th. Those specific times will be listed here closer to the days.

What is The Connecting Thread?

The Connecting Thread uses hand-printed textile images, bedsheets and pillowcases to create a living, tactile timeline. The exhibition is about realizing how decisions made hundreds of years ago affect who we are and where we are today. It’s about discovering another layer to our identity, appreciating the paths travelled by the people preceding us and giving life to the names on a family tree.

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Filed under a good story, Dudley, Edinburgh, Exeter/Ivybridge, Nebraska, Newcastle upon Tyne, the process

Not everything in life has to be serious

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Last weekend I attended a “dress like a doctor/nurse/body part” birthday party.
As you can see, I opted for something different. Tomorrow, back to work planning the final stage for The Connecting Thread.

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Across the plains

Edward and ...

Three generations

Grace, William and Guy Green

Recently, I received these photos from my aunt Barb.  As I am a very patient person, I didn’t wait for her to confirm who these people are in the photos.  I’ve guessed, then emailed and am waiting for a response.  I know for certain that the last one is of my grandfather and his parents.  The one in the middle has me flumoxed as I am not sure who the wise looking man is that is sitting on the right.  I want to believe with all my heart that this is Joseph Green, the man that sailed his family on a small ship across the Atlantic, in search of a better (or at the very least, different ) life.  I have not seen a photo of Joseph before so if this is it, well bless my stars, that would be something quite spectacular for me.

I have been re-reading excerpts from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Across the Plains.”  He would have been on a train that travelled very close the my family’s farm in Otoe, Nebraska.  I like to think of him, Mr RLS, on his journey through the plains, possibly glimpsing the Green family farm, Edward’s farm, in the distance.  Well, that parcel of land would not have been settled by Edward for another ten or so years after Stevenson’s first trip across the states in 1879.  But still.  I like making connections and links, no matter how tedious.

Here are some quotes I’ve lifted from the Robert Louis Stevenson website:

“For many years America was to me a sort of promised land; ‘westward the march of empire holds its way’; the race is for the moment to the young; what has been and what is we imperfectly and obscurely know; what is to be yet lies beyond the flight of our imaginations. [. . . ] England has already declined, since she has lost the States; and to these States, therefore, yet undeveloped, full of dark possibilities, and grown, like another Eve, from one rib out of the side of their own land, the minds of young men in England turn naturally at a certain hopeful period of their age”

(RLS, The Amateur Emigrant, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol ii [London: Chatto and Windus, 1911], p. 80)

The train makes its way across the plains of Nebraska: “We were at sea – there is no other adequate expression – on the plains of Nebraska. [. . .] It was a world almost without a feature; an empty sky, an empty earth, front and back, the line of the railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a cue across a billiard-board; one either hand, the green plain ran till it touched the skirts of heaven” (RLS, “Across the Plains”, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Swanston edn, vol ii [London: Chatto and Windus, 1911], p. 115). In the evening, the train stops at North-Platte, Nebraska, so that passengers can have their dinner.

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