Category Archives: research

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

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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Don’t worry. They returned the baby.

I’ve been trying to eek out the stories from the whirlwind of conversations that went on during the exhibition at the Green family homestead. A notebook should have been available for capturing these words as my memory isn’t so brilliant at keeping the facts in line.
My Aunt Peggy, Aunt Patty and Aunt Barb were talking about my Grandmother’s Grandmother, Daisy Mader. She had written a book of poems and I am happy to say that I have one of these books in my possession.
There is a story about Daisy’s grandmother living on the plains. Daisy had remembered stories of an event that would make even the most sturdy and brave gasp with fright. The Indians that lived near the house would peer through the window shutters. They were curious about this fair skinned, light haired and light eyed family that had moved in.
One day, recalls Daisy’s Grandmother, the baby disappeared. The Indians had taken the baby. Oh my lands, what must that have been like?! I wish I knew more as I’m sure anyone reading this is hungry for more details just as I am. Eventually, after what was the longest day on Earth for that family, the baby was returned.
I think the consensus is that the Indians had just been curious about the little mite. They didn’t mean to harm him, but what? Borrow him for the day? Whatever the reason, it all thankfully ended well.

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‘Wisconsin Death Trip’ providing unusual insight

Wisconsin Death Trip

Recently, I got my greedy little mits on this most amazing and unusual book.  It was given to me by a good friend and I must say that it has provided a very interesting insight into a little pocket of history from a little corner of the US.

It is difficult to explain this read in a few short sentences.  So therefore, I will take from the book jacket and lay it out as this:

“First published in 1973, this remarkable book about life in a small turn-of-the-century Wisconsin town has become a cult classic.  Michael Lesy has collected and arranged photographs taken between 1890 and 1910 by a Black River Falls photographer, Charles Van Schaik.  Against these are juxtaposed excerpts from the Badger State Banner, from Mendota State (asylum) Record Book, and occasionally quotations from the writings of Hamlin Garland and Glenway Westcott.”

I think my friend Ian explained it brilliantly when he said ‘It’s the Little House on the Prairie from Hell.’  Oh Ian, you do have a way with words.

There is one woman in the book that has been mentioned a few times.  “Mary Sweeny, of window breaking fame” is how she is described in one instance.  I just think, the poor lady, to be forever labelled in history as someone just a bit bad.  Not entirely bad, but you know, a sort of nuisance.  Not entirely bad.  But sort of.

As I have been working with images from my family’s 1894 homestead, I feel that this book has firmly placed my family in a specific point in history.  The details of hardships, deaths, fires, and struggles detailed in the book give me a broader picture of how hard life must have been on that farm so long ago.  I assume that some of what was going down in Wisconsin was playing out in other midwestern towns.  When I look at my photograph of Edward Moody standing by his windmill and his wife standing with child on hip, I am filled with admiration.  I know their story wasn’t unique, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult.

I think that most teachers in schools are missing a trick here.  I remember sitting through my history lessons, going into fits of boredom and despair as we talked about the Pioneers for the hundredth time.  Covered wagons this.  Oregan Trail that.  Dugouts.  Sod Houses.  Bonnets.  I don’t remember one lesson covering what these people had left behind in order to start their new life on the prairie.  Not one.  Well, most of that could be down to my rubbish memory, so I will give some grace there.  My family left behind a good, sturdy home, living in a bit of luxury.  There was a promise of free land in that newly formed state of Nebraska, so they took it.

It is interesting to think of what has happened since they planted themselves onto Nebraska soil.  I can’t help but think of the line struggling, pushing, working it’s way forward.  My grandfather grew up as an only child on a farm.  When he graduated from high school, he hitch-hiked to Lincoln to go to college, forever turning his back on farming.  Sure, he owned farms later in life, but I don’t think he ever toiled there again.

 

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Edward was busy his whole life

Notes from a relative

I regret to say that it is only just now that I have had time to sift through the papers that my Dad’s uncle posted to me a few months ago.  When I received them, I flicked through them and thought ‘Ooh Ooh interesting,’ but had to set them aside as I was probably dealing with other pressing matters.

The huge folder of paperwork had slowly become buried in other paperwork, images I have been working with and random notes until you could hardly see the corner of the large envelope peeping through the mess. That is no way to treat important information, Cassandra.  No way at all.

It is only just now, as the ship and farmstead screens are drying, that I have opened my mind enough to take in this information.  Oh, there is such a lot in here!  I have a week’s worth of blog posts lined up as there are so many interesting stories within this stash.

This post is going to focus on Edward, that wee 3 year old baby that made his way to Nebraska on a ship and God knows what other transport in-land.

“When my father (Edward M Green – Ted) selected his homestead, he dug a dug out and dug a well.  He worked for John Anesbury – he planted a high field of corn with a hard corn planter – helped in anyway possible – he worked for the railroad – he bucketed water from the creek for the first train engineers – he helped dig the fish wells.  Once while digging a well for Will Smith (Edith Burns folks) he heard Mrs Smith scream thinking probly a snake was around.  He went to the sod house to find Mrs Smith on a wooden box and a mouse watching her.

Dad loved to sing…there was a quartet Dad – Uncle Ben Morris – Uncle Joe Green and Elmer Boyd.”

Doesn’t he just sound like such a fabulous man?  I can tell you, that of all the photographs I have of Edward Moody Green, he is smiling in all of them.  And the smile isn’t just on his lips, it’s also in his eyes. He looks happy and hopeful. He looks like he expects goods things from the world.

Edward

Edward

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So tell us, what’s on the board

Ideas and inspiration board

This board changes almost every week.  Whatever section of the tour I am working on, I fill it with images that relate to that particular part of the story.  I also whack up a few small pieces that I admire/delight in/reminds me of someone or something very dear to me.

1. Big blown up photo of the Tyne and its many bridges.  This is a photo I took whilst living in Newcastle and obviously, this is the photo I used for my bridge screen.

2. A massive article about ‘Edgelands’ from The Times.  I want this book.  Want. Want. Want.  But it doesn’t come out until the 17th so I must impatiently wait, wait, wait.

3. A print out of my Trinity Car Park artwork, which I used to create the larger screen.

4. A small  little article titles ‘Hunt for North American Indians’ Salford blood brother’.  Article reads ‘Records have been unearthed showing how a group of Oglala Lakota Indians who spent five months in Salford 120 years ago struck up a friendship with a local man.’  There is a town not far from where I grew up called Ogallala.  I’m assuming this was named after the natives.  Also, an ancestor of mine worked with Buffalo Bill.  Makes me wonder about a connection here.  Family myth says that my family moved to the states because of an ancestor working with Buffalo Bill.  I am still researching this possible fascinating story.

5. My first blog entry.  I need to choose three or four entries to use for my preview show at Mushroom Works.  This one is obvious, but am having difficulties choosing others.

6. Anna’s marketing plan.  She is ace.

7. Air Iomlaid post card from an exhibition at the Fruitmarket.  Loved it.  An exchange of school children from Edinbrugh to the Isle of Skye.  I’ve been to Skye three times.  It’s one of my favourite places to visit.

8. Forlat postcard.  Means ‘forgiveness’ in Swedish.

9. Post card from Nara + Graf exhibition at Baltic.  Best damn thing I’ve ever seen.

10. Post card artwork from Carola Gordon, the lovely lady artist that told me about the VAS show at the RSA.

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What is psychogeography (my attempt to explain)

First…let us rest our eyes upon a nice photo of some work in progress…

Putting the pieces together

I thought it was time to slot in a photograph before getting into the fun of trying to string words together to make a coherent explanation.

*deep breath*

Here we go.

When I first spied this word, I tried to put together a meaning by taking it apart and defining each of its parts.  It was a guess that the word meant something like how you think of your surroundings, how your surroundings shape you, psycho, geography, thinking, place.  After googling the definition and agreeing that it had something to do with my project, I decided that that wasn’t good enough so I bought a book about it.  Thanks again, Ian, for your suggestion.  I am thoroughly enjoying ‘Psychogeography’ by Merlin Coverley.

I’ve only read through the first 30 pages, but this is the gist of what I believe the book is telling me.  London and Paris were the main cities in which psychogeography were practiced and discussed in the 50’s.  Writers had dabbled in it before but had not defined their thinking/practice/whatever as psychogeography.  It is a way of thinking of your environment.  Instead of trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible, consider your surroundings.  Consider the history of your surroundings.  Consider how they impact the people living amongst the buildings, streets, cars, hills, and so on.  Do not think of it as it currently IS, but think of it in the context of its history.  To quote directly from the book, psychogeography is:

‘…reflecting a wider awareness of ‘spirit of place’ through which landscape, whether urban or rural, can be imbued with a sense of the histories of previous inhabitants and the events that have been played out against them…This visionary continuity is described as a ‘chronological resonance’ and is the point at which place, history and identity converge…’

It’s this and more and if you want to get into more detail, I suggest you grab yourself a copy of the book.

Does that help?  I’ve been underlining bits, taking notes and drawing in the margins.

Can I just say, that if you are looking for a more in depth explanation or a philosophical discussion, I am not your person for that.  Neither am I one to discuss history or geneology or other sciences as I barely passed my science classes in high school.  I am just me.  I don’t claim to be anything more than that.  I don’t mean this is a mean way, I just don’t want you to be disappointed if I don’t respond with something deep and profound.

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