Category Archives: Nebraska

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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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

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

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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The one about the wedding

Behived bride and Colonel Sanders

The wedding happened several weeks ago and I am only now blogging about it.  Tsk.  Tsk.  I’m not doing so well keeping up with things.  What can I say.  Life is turning corners, jumping ahead and dragging me – bumping along – with it.  I feel  like I have lassoed a Bronco.

So, this is the wedding.  And there is the bride.  And there is our father looking distinguished by her side.  As you can see, Nicole’s hair is defying gravity in a rather awesome way.  She is beautiful as ever, looking towards her future, stepping into it with  hope and love.  Just wait until year three when you are still bickering over whose turn it is to do the dishes.  But for now, for now, enjoy the newness of it all.  Enjoy the changes, too, because they are something wonderful to behold.

Nicole and Dad walked in on a song that sounded like the Jaws theme tune but then switched to something else, but equally forboding. The ceremony was lovely, a message was delivered by our Biker Minister and there were some tears in some eyes and a couple of those eyes may have been mine.


The kids then walked down the aisle, smiling and cheery, to the sound of the High School Pep Band playing a lively tune.

The band!

We then all went outside and released some balloons into the air.  Afterwards, we found ourselves in a beautifully decorated church basement, were faced with cake and food and drinks and speeches.  It was all very lovely and wonderful.  The kids did well to make this a very unique -to-them ceremony.  Here’s the bit where they shoved cake in eachother’s face:

Nom nom

And they lived happily ever after.  Nicole went on to become the rockenest theatre/drama/music teacher in the history of ever.  Chris continued to be entertaining and hilarious in his unique way.  And they gave me several neices and nephews which in turn made me live happily ever after as well.  Thanks!  My future self thanks you for your generosity.

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and then it owned me

I am in a very weird place.  There is a bit of calm happening and I’ve taken this calm space to sit down and consider the project so far and the project in the future.  With Exeter, Dudley and Nebraska behind me, with Edinburgh current then upcoming Newcastle, I am now living in the middle of this huge adventure.  I see what I’ve done.  I see what I’m about to do.  It’s exciting, brilliant and also a little bit sad.  Is Newcastle to be the end?  Hopefully, no.

How did this project begin?  Well, that question has been answered a zillion times, but perhaps I haven’t really addressed why I needed to do this.  After all, we have lots of ideas throughout a day: Maybe I’ll start going to that zumba class, Perhaps I’ll eat fruit more often, Think I’ll get my tyres rotated, Today I will start writing that book, I really ought to start a book/film/knitting/hoovering club.  They flit in.  They flit out.  What is it that makes you grab onto an idea and own it?  What makes you realise that to give it up, to let it slip through your attention span – going hardly noticed – would be a detriment to your life.

When this project came to mind, I was going through a significant transition.  Most of my life has been a significant transition – a transition from the states to Redhill to Crawley to Newcastle to Edinburgh from job to job to job from hoping to start growing a family to realising that’s just not in the cards for me.  Nearly nine years of transition.  All of those times of stopping then starting over with a new plan.

When the idea for this project came to mind, I had to hold onto it and make it happen as there just seemed to be no other option.  It was something I had a certain amount of control over.  If I failed at this, it would be my fault and my fault only.  If I made it happen, then that would be my success.  The project was monumental and I needed to prove to myself that I could at least succeed at this. I may have failed to put down roots or carry a job for more than 2 years, to have children, but this would prove to myself that if I believed in it enough, I could make it happen.  And it’s happened.  It is happening.  And I do feel that I have wrestled this beast to the ground and shown it whose boss.  Life, that is.

What does success for this look like and how do I know I’ve achieved it?  To be honest, if I had only gotten as far as Exeter, I would have felt that this was a success.  I finished the work on time.  I’ve learned things.  My eyes have been wide open and I have met so many interesting people along the way.  My life feels fuller and richer.  Because I took a chance.

Which was scary.

But I did it, anyway.


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



I’m standing here in my hotel room, looking out over the top of the other hotels, looking into the distance and seeing the Rockies stretched out across the horizon. I’m looking at the clouds as they grow, billow out, turn darker shades of blue and lazily drift across the sky. I’m looking out and thinking back to the July that’s slipping away into August. I’m looking back and missing my family already, even though we parted company just a few hours ago.
Most of the good photos are still living on my camera, which I’ll need to upload and add to this blog. The wedding photos will have to wait for a later post. Chris, the newly acquired member into the clan, will soon learn what it’s like to be a part of this tribe. He’s had four years of experience, four years of Dad’s bad jokes, Mom’s amazing skills of organisation and Facebook contact with his wife’s far flung siblings. The kids are camping now. On their honeymoon. Personally, that would be my version of hell. But anyway…
It’s been great to reconnect with family, meet members that have been hiding in the woodwork and also make new friends. A highlight for me was meeting Eileen (or re-meeting, as I’d met her when I was a child). Leeta Eileen, daughter of Leeta. Leeta was the younger sister of Guy, born in the house made of mud. Eileen is Grandpa’s cousin. You follow me?
My sister-in-law Constance and I were standing in a side aisle in the church, waiting for the wedding to begin, when this very smart looking woman in a beautiful brown and light blue dress walked up to us. Constance was introduced to Eileen. I then put out my hand, said “I’m Cassandra, the bride’s sister.” Suddenly, I was all wrapped up in a wonderful hug. Eileen had just been to see the artwork at the Art Guild. It took me a minute to work out that this was Grandpa’s cousin. She had tears in her eyes and I think that was down to seeing the house where her mother was born, the mud house which features prominently on the Nebraska plain.
Oh, Eileen. What a joy it was to meet her. During the wedding reception we talked about the stories we’d been passed down from the family. Maria descended from royalty, so I’ve been told. She married beneath her. That Joseph. Son of a farmer. I’m not really sure what to make of all that. The family research will surely continue for many more years. This will please as I fork over more hard earned cash to them.
I will be keeping in touch with Eileen. Teacher. Taught in Bolivia and Ukraine, but mostly in Eastern Nebraska. I could tell she was a teacher at 20 paces. She’s got that look about her.
And so. And so. Navigating old territory, me. Navigating new. Like the pioneers using landmarks to guide them, I shall be trying to figure out what my own life’s milestones are telling me. I kinda think that meeting Eileen was life letting me know I’m on the right track.

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