sketchbook // April 1, 2014
While thinking of ideas for the first post in this series about The Middle West, I became a bit overwhelmed by the vast array of options. I finally settled on starting at the beginning of my own midwestern story by looking back at family photographs and a small piece of my family tree. I decided to find a photograph to use as inspiration for a watercolor sketch, and this photograph of my great-great-grandfather's family is, without a doubt, one of my favorites.
He immigrated from Norway and eventually settled in this white house on the Minnesota and Iowa border. This was taken in the late 1800s and I love his daughters' white dresses, their placement and poses from left to right across the image, and that perfect porch. There are so many great details in this photograph, but I decided to simply add one of the daughters to my sketchbook.
Like many midwesterners, my background is a melting pot of northern European ancestry, and there is nothing particularly unique or interesting about my family's story. There isn't any royalty or fame or riches, nothing to elevate or distinguish it from all the other stories of immigration and family and starting over in a new place. But at the same time, I know there were interesting stories and people threaded throughout my tree, and the same is true for all of us. Unfortunately all but a few of those stories are now lost to time.
We do know a bit about Hans Olson's family, but only because someone chose to write a few pieces of the story down before those who remembered were gone. Sadly, several of the girls in this photograph died within a few short years after the photograph was taken. Also, my great-great-grandmother, Beret, isn't in this photograph because she passed away many years earlier from childbirth. After Beret's death, Hans wrote to Beret's sister and asked her if she would marry him and help him raise his seven children. That is her seated in the chair next to her son, her only child with Hans.
Because so many pieces of these people's lives are now forgotten, it makes the few stories that were passed down even more precious and worth holding onto, and my goal is to seek out other stories to tell, in pictures and paintings, in the months ahead.