Posts Tagged ‘Icon Series’

Another St. Patrick’s Day, that celebration of all things Irish– parades, pints and more Kelly green than the mind can fully process. They say that well over 30 million Americans claim to have Irish roots.

Growing up, I always believed we did as well because my grandmother was an O’dell, which certainly seems Irish. But doing genealogy over the last decade I have discovered that the O’dell was changed through the years from Odell and before that from Odle and, most likely, before that from Woddell, It turns out that it was not Irish at all.

No, it was British. And for the Irish that is a big distinction.

But I also discovered that my father’s great-grandparents were Irish immigrants during the Great Migration of the middle of the 19th century. It was something I wasn’t sure of before I started my genealogy work. I still haven’t found where they originally came from in Ireland.

Icon: Mary T.

Their’s was a pretty stock story. The father, Michael Patrick Tobin, worked on building the railroads in central New York, ultimately settling in the Binghamton area, where most of his family worked for the next several decades in the tobacco industry there. Most were tobacco strippers or cigar makers.

I am not positive that his wife was actually born in Ireland. There are conflicting accounts but her parents definitely were. She was the subject of one of my Icon paintings from a couple of year’s back shown here on the right. Her story is an interesting one, one that I wrote about on this blog. You can read it by clicking here.

So, it turns out I am one of those 30-some million with a bit of Irish blood, about 25 % according to the DNA tests. I don’t give it much thought except on this particular day and even then, I realize that these folks were not much different than most of my other ancestors from other countries who left the hardships of their homelands for what they hoped would be a better life in America. I can’t say they all found wonderful lives but perhaps they were a bit better off than they might have been had they stayed put.

Okay, here a bit of Irish music for the day, a nice reel, The Glen Road to Carrick, from a contemporary Irish group, FullSet. I like the feel of this- it has a fresh edge that makes me want to drive too fast. By the way, the painting at the top is from a late Irish painter, Paul Henry, who painted primarily in the first half of the 20th century. I am a fan of his work and featured it here a couple of years back.

Have yourself a good day.

Read Full Post »

GC Myers- Icon-MartinI thought I had put the Icon series on hold for a bit as I moved more heavily into the work for my upcoming shows in June and July.  But the other day I just had an itch to jump quickly into one of the ancestors who remains prominent but a bit of a mystery for me.  It was painted quickly without hardly any dawdling over it and by the time it was blocked out in the red oxide paint that I use for my underpainting it felt like it was coming to life.

The painting is a 12″ by 12″ canvas that is titled Icon: Martin P.  It is my depiction of my 3rd great-grandfather, a man born in Canada sometime around 1800.  I have seen his birth year listed as 1798, 1800 and 1802.  His name is also somewhat up for debate.  It has come down through time as the anglicized Martin Perry but I have seen the last name listed  as the French-based Paré, Parent and Poirer.  He was of French-Canadian descent, that is without dispute.  Outside of this and a few other facts, there is little else to go on besides assumptions that can be gleaned from what little is known and rumors from the family that remains in the far north of New York state, near the Canadian border.

For instance, there is no known record of the name of his wife, my 3rd great-grandmother.  I have heard rumors from the family there that she was a maiden from the Mohawk tribe that occupied a reservation in the area where Martin came to live but there is no evidence of this, either in records or in DNA.  I have heard from a professional genealogist who ran into this dead-end and was unsuccessful in uncovering anything.

Martin was not known to be a farmer though his children all ended up as such.  He was rumored to have been a coureur des bois, literally a wood’s runner or woodsman,  which was basically a frontier figure who lived as a hunter and sometime guide.  In the few records I can find from his later life, he is listed simply as a laborer, no doubt at a time when the idea of being a woodsy, especially an old one, was on the decline in the quickly settling areas of the east.

But one thing I do know is that he must have been a tough old man.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in late 1861, along with son of the same name, at the age of 60 years old.  He served in the 98th New York Infantry and in the following year, saw action at the Battle of Williamsburg and the the Battle of Seven Pines. which was at that time, early in the Civil War, the largest conflict of the campaign.

I don’t know how he came through it all except to note that he was mustered out later that year, 1862, due to disability.  The idea of a 60 year old man marching a thousand or so miles and fighting in battles that were often at close range seems pretty wild in these times but I don’t think it was such for a man raised in the northern wilds.  He would have been used to tough conditions, to wet and cold and a spartan lifestyle.  For him to have been pulled from the conflict points to a real injury, illness or wound of some sort.

I have yet to find the date of his death.  Records in that time and place are often iffy at best but I continue to search.

So, in my depiction of Martin Perry I see him as that coureur des bois, bearded and dressed in buckskin.  From what I can tell, he lived on the fringes of the civilized world  with a foot always in the wild.

Read Full Post »

GC Myers- Icon: St. Anna of NovgorodI don’t know how to start with this newest painting from the Icon series.  When I started the series I wanted it to focus on the lives and stories of the everyday ancestors that make up my and many others’ family lines.  But there ares some folks in these lines that are definitely not everyday people.  Such is the case with this icon– she was already the subject of multiple icons before I even thought of painting her.

Her birth name was Ingegerd Olafsdotter and she was born to the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung  right around the year 1001.  She is my 32nd great-grandmother.

She received an exceptional education as a young girl of the time, studying the scriptures, literature and history as well as being instructed in the use of military arms.  In order to extend his own influence and consolidate power, Olof sent her to Kiev in 1017 to wed the Russian Great Prince Yaroslav the Wise.  There she took on the name Greek martyred saint,  Irene.

During her time as the Great Princess of Kiev, Irene acted as an ambassador of sorts in maintaining Russia’ influence in the Europe of that age.   She offered sanctuary to several outcast princes to protect them from overthrowing forces and arranged marriages for her children that placed them squarely in the middle of continental affairs.  Her three daughters became Queens of Hungary, Norway and France ( my 31st gr-grandmother, Anne of Kiev)  while her sons all took positions of power within Russia.

St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

She and Yaroslav also continued the growth of Christianity in that time, building the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev as well as one of the same name in Novgorod.  Near the end of her life, Irene established a monastery in Novgorod and, as was the custom of the time, as founder was required to operate it.  In doing she was tonsured (which involves the cutting of the hair) and took on the name Anna.  She continued in this capacity for several years until her death around the year 1050.  She is buried in St, Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod.

Holy Anna of Novgorod from Holy Annas Chapel in SwedenFor her works in spreading the beliefs of the church as well, in actually building churches, Anna was made a saint in the Eastern Orthodox church.  In fact, one of the feast days of St. Anna is next week on February 10th.

You would think it would be easier to paint this type of ancestor, especially one who is already portrayed in many real icons.  But there is such a disconnnect in time and place that with some of these distant illustrious ancestors, while I am pleased to know that I somehow have a blood  link to them, I feel less of a bond with them than  with a hardworking lumberman in the Adirondacks or a forgotten housemaid who stole from  her employer.  Or even a Scottish scoundrel and liar who remains a mystery to me.

Maybe I see more of myself in them.

Genealogy often reveals great discoveries.  In some cases, you are left wondering how a family rose so far from humble beginnings while in others you wonder what choices and factors along the way brought a descendant so far below the stature of their ancestors.

I guess it’s a great case study in the laws of probability.  Over the course of a thousand years and thirty some generations winding their way into a new country, some bad choices and bad luck will inevitably fall on some along the way.  I am sure there are literally many, many millions of descendants springing from St. Anna and some families have probably maintained power and prestige through the ages.

And others– well, you know the story.  It’s most of our stories.


Read Full Post »

GC Myers- Icon: Mary TOne of the things I am trying to emphasize with this current Icon series is the fact that we are all flawed in some way, that we all have deficiencies and stumbles along the way.  Yet, uncovering these faults in my research, I find myself holding affection for many of these ancestors that dot my family tree.  Perhaps it is the simple fact that without them I would not be here or perhaps I see some of my own flaws in them.

I’m still working on that bit of psychology.

The 12″ by 12″ canvas shown here is titled Icon: Mary T.  She is my great-great grandmother.  Born Mary Anne Ryan  of Irish immigrant parents in the Utica area she married Michael Tobin, an Irishman ( I believe he was from County Kerry but the research is still up in the air on this) who came to the States around 1850, right in the midst of the Great Irish Immigration.

Michael worked on the railroads being built throughout central New York in the late 1800’s.  Following the progress of the railroads, the couple and their growing family worked their way down through the state towards Binghamton, NY where they eventually settled.  Mary Anne eventually ended up as a housekeeper in a prominent home in the area.  Michael died around 1890 although records are sketchy on this and Mary died at my great-grandmother’s home in Elmira in 1914.

All told, they had seven daughters and three sons.  Most worked in the then booming tobacco industry of that time and place.  Most of her daughters worked as tobacco strippers  and some worked as cigar rollers, as did her sons.

That’s the simple telling of the story.  Looking into the back stories provide a little more depth which can sometimes change all perceptions.

None of her sons ever married and all were had desperate problems with alcohol.  One son was listed in a newspaper report from some years later as having been arrested for public drunkenness around 40 times over the years, seven times in one year.  He was also arrested for running a still more than once during the prohibition years.  Two of her sons died in institutions where they had been placed for their alcoholism.

A Silk Spencer

A Silk Spencer

I came across a story in the local Binghamton newspapers about Mary and two of her daughters, who were also working as domestics with here in the prominent Binghamton home owned by a local attorney and nephew of the founder of Binghamton .  In 1874, the story reports that a number  of items came up missing, including a “forty dollar silk spencer,” which is a sort of short garment like the one shown here at the right.  Neighbors informed the owner of the spencer that Mary had a number of the stolen items in her possession and a search warrant was sworn out.

Detectives came to the Tobin home and made a thorough search but turned up nothing.  They then tore up the carpets which revealed a trap door that led to a small basement.  There they found many of the stolen items but no spencer.  But they did find a silk collar that had been attached to it.  Mary and her two daughters were arrested.

Mary did finally claim to be the sole thief and her daughters were released.  I have yet to find how this particular story ends and how Mary was punished but based on the futures of some of her children I can’t see it being a happy ending.

Doing this painting, I was tempted to make my Mary a bit harsher, a lit more worn.  But as I said, there’s some sort of strange ancestral affection at play even though I know she was obviously a flawed human.  She’s smaller and more delicate looking in the painting than I imagine she was in reality. But maybe that’s little payback for the information her story reveals about the future of my family.

This is a simple painting because, as I pointed out, this is a simple story at its surface.  It’s the story of many, many families.


Read Full Post »


"La Vigne Rouge"- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh's Lifetime

“La Vigne Rouge”- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh’s Lifetime

I came across an interesting little film, Painting in the Dark:The Struggle For Art in a World Obsessed With Popularity, from video essayist Adam Westbrook that speaks about the life and struggles of Vincent Van Gogh.

While already a well documented tale, one with which many of us are very well acquainted, Westbrook uses Van Gogh’s life in a way that makes us question whether we would have the same sort of inner urge to continue creating without the encouragement of others.  Van Gogh, after all, basically painted for an audience of only himself and his brother throughout his entire creative life yet painted incessantly, producing work at a prodigious pace.

Autotelic DefinitionHe also introduces us to the word autotelic, taken from the book, Flow, from famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  The word refers to a self contained activity, one that is not done with the expectation of future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.  In short, it’s what you do when you are your only audience, when you are the only one who can judge the work.

I think of my current Icon series in that way, even though I have been sharing the work here.  It is done solely for my own pleasure and satisfaction, without a thought of trying to please someone else with it.  It’s just something I have to do and what will become of it is of no concern to me at this point.

There’s something very liberating in that but whether I could sustain this passion for it through a decade of hardship is a difficult question, one that I hope to never have to face.

This film is a little over 10 minutes in length and very well done so if you have the time, take a look.  If you like the work of  Adam Westbrook check out his site which contains his video essays, delve.  Or his regular website. Or if you would like to lend financial support, you can visit his page on Patreon.


The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

Read Full Post »

GC Myers-  Icon: FrancoisMy current Icon series has been a real pleasure for myself in that it’s refreshing to work on pieces that I realize are only for myself, not worrying if they strike a chord with anyone else.  For me, it’s fulfilling to flesh out some of my ancestors and their stories, to give them an image that I an hold on to.  As I’ve said these are meant as symbols– I’m not trying to recreate their actual appearance.  In most cases, there is nothing to work with, nothing that would give me a clue as to how they might really look.  So, this is how I see them in my mind.

The painting at the top is a 12″ by 12″ canvas that is titled Icon: François.  He is my 9th gr-grandfather, born in 1640 in the area around Boulogne, France.  It is on the English Channel not to far from Calais.  He was a soldier in the Grandfontaine Company of the Carignan Regiment,  which was sent in 1665 to Quebec in what was then called New France.  The troops came in several ships, François arriving in August aboard the ship L’Aigle d’Or— the Golden Eagle.

These 1200 troops were sent to protect the new settlements  that France had established and to aide in fort construction along the Richelieu River.  They were also sent in order to help populate New France.  Some were offered money or land to stay in the new country and build a life there.  François, I believe, fell into that category as he showed up soon after in census listings as a master woodworker living in Quebec.  While I am not positive that he received any

incentives to stay in New France, such is not the case with his wife and my 9th gr-grandmother, Marguerite Paquet,  She was one of the Filles du Roi, or the King’s Daughters.  Between 1663 and 1673, King Louis XIV sponsored this program which offered young French women, all single and many orphaned,  free transportation and settlement to New France along with a dowry of money or land in the new land if they agreed to marry one of the men living there.  You see, the first settlers were overwhelmingly male.  I have at least two or three Filles du Roi in my line as do most French Canadians.

François died as relatively young man in 1675 but not before he and Marguerite had three children which set off a long line that runs through Canadian history to today, spawning hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of decendents.

I see François is this painting as an Adam-like character, naked and in a new world that he will help populate,  The brushstrokes radiating from the halo represent the generations that descend from the choice he and his wife made to seek a new life in the new world.  It’s a simple painting and a relatively simple story– at least as simple as you can make one’s entire life into a short tale.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: