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Archive for July 20th, 2010

This is a new painting that is also part of the New Days exhibit at the West End Gallery.  Titled Roots Show Through, it’s one of those paintings that, for me, brings to mind an immediate thought.  When I look at this piece I am instantly reminded that we are the products of our past and that our ancestry deeply dictates many of our behaviors.  We may believe that our actions are ours alone and that our forebearers are remote from us in all ways but they show themselves in ways we may never recognize.

I was watching the end of the PBS series Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates (of the infamous arrest and subsequent Beer Summit at the White House) which traces the genealogical background of a number of well known folks, showing how they came to be and how they are interrelated to many others.  I was captivated by how they were able to break down the genetic composition of their subjects, showing how richly we are endowed those things that make us unique by prior generations.  Each one of our direct anscestors made it possible for us to be here in the form, for better or worse, that we are at present.  Take away any of them and we become much different people, if we exist at all.

The roots show through.

Now there are roots that we would like to keep deeply buried.  I know from doing genealogy that there is a tendency to want to see our ancestors in the best possible light, to give them the most positive attributes.  You imagine them to be wise and good and often you can find some evidence that some of your ancestors were .  But sometimes you find things that are less flattering, things you hope haven’t found their way to you through the genetic network.  In doing my own genealogy ( and my guess is that it is similar to a great many people out there) I have found a number of good and learned people who had places of respect in their communities.  But for every one of these folks I found even more who were less accomplished. 

 Going through census records, I find many ancestors in the recent past  who could not read nor write.  Some are listed on these same records in prisons and county poor houses and sanitariums.  Some are found in other records listing their misdeeds.  I have thieves and swindlers in my line.  My favorite was a beaver thief from the late 1600’s up the Hudson Valley.  I have some ancestors who were killed in various battles and massacres and as many who took part in other massacres, including one who was darkly remembered for the lifelong  revenge he took against the Indian tribes who had killed his father.  I have murderers including a great-great grandfather from several generations back who was hung in the town square in Easton, PA  for the murder of his wife. 

You hope some of those roots found a dead-end generations ago.  But they probably found their way through in some form and you ultimately deal with the background that brought you here in ways you hope allow you to live and prosper, with some semblance of wisdom and good.  You hope that the positive traits handed down to you by your ancestors far outweigh the negative ones.

Oddly enough, all of this and more comes to mind when I glimpse this piece.  It has almost become an icon for this particular thought.  How others see it, I cannot guess…

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