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Posts Tagged ‘Icon’

Charles C Mulford Grave Alexandria VA National CemeteryI’ve been going to Alexandria, VA, a lovely and historic town that hugs the Potomac River just a few miles below Washington DC, for a long time, often several times a year.  Outside of my link with the Principle Gallery and the relationships that have grown from that, I never thought I had a connection of any sort with that area.

Col. Eleazer Lindsley

Col.Eleazer Lindsley

But, as many of you who read this blog on a regular basis already know, I am an avid genealogist.  I have documented some of my ancestral discoveries in a series of paintings, Icons, like the one shown here on the right, that I hope to get back to soon.  While going through one of my lines earlier this year I came across a great-grand uncle by the name of Charles C. Mulford, who was the great grandson of Colonel Eleazer Lindsley who is shown in the Icon painting on the right.

Mulford was born in nearby Lindley in 1821 and lived a quiet life as a farmer until the Civil War broke out.  Serving for the 6th Regiment of the NY Heavy Artillery, he saw combat in battles at Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Wilderness, Totopotomy and Petersburg.  At the Battle of Petersburg, Mulford was shot in the upper  thigh and, during his hospitalization, contracted typhus and died in early July of 1864.

It was the same tragic ending that many of my ancestors met while serving this country.  But the interesting detail in the account was that he had died in Alexandria at the Fairfax Seminary hospital and was buried in the National Cemetery not too far from the gallery.

So Friday morning when I went out for coffee at a local cafe that I frequent when I am  in town I decided to seek out my great-grand uncle.  Under threatening skies, I strolled the few blocks to the cemetery that is tucked quietly among neighborhoods filled with townhouses.  It only took a few moments to find the grave, sitting in the first row facing a  stone wall.

The marble headstone was well weathered as you can see at the top of the page.  I stood there for quite a while.  I wondered if any others had looked closely at that stone in recent years, had uttered the name over that grave.

It’s a small thing but just standing in front of that stone for  a few minutes was very calming for me, especially on the day of an opening when I am normally very anxious.  Just knowing that he and I shared a tiny bit of DNA and a common beginning had meaning for me, connecting to me to my family, our history as a nation and to Alexandria, as well.  I felt like I belonged in so many ways.

And there was great peace in that moment.

So, besides the many paintings that I know populate the homes of Alexandria and the friends that I have made there, a small part of my past will always reside in that city.  I finally feel truly connected there.

Some extra info:  Charles Mulford was the first cousin of  General John E. Mulford (my first cousin 6 generations removed) who was President Lincoln‘s  Commissioner of Exchange which meant that he arranged for the exchange of prisoners during the war.  He is shown below in uniform in a photo from Matthew Brady.Gen John E. Mulford Matthew Brady Photo Richmond VA

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Slovakian Resurrection Icon circa 1640

Slovakian Resurrection Icon circa 1640

It’s Easter Sunday.  Resurrection Day.

I’ve said it before here, I am not a religious person.  I wasn’t raised with religion and much of my knowledge of it as a kid came from a local lady, Nellie Beidelman, who used to come to our little elementary school on a regular basis.  We would assemble in the cafe-gym-a-torium ( a space that served all three functions) to hear her tell Bible stories with the aid of a felt board with beautifully painted cut-out figures.

I know it’s not something that could ever take place today in a public school.  But she was a very warm, gentle person and a fine storyteller without being preachy.  I always found the stories interesting as they introduced me to the classic tales of the Old and New Testament and still vividly remember her telling of the Resurrection.  It didn’t make me feel any more inclined toward religion but at least I knew the stories and the lessons that they contained.

I just never had that certainty of belief.  I admired it in others and sometimes wished I had it.  But that same certainty made me uneasy.  What would someone do in the name of their belief, that thing that seemed so certain to them and so distant to me?  The news is filled with horrors perpetrated by those with this certainty firmly in place, whether it’s ISIS inspired suicide bombers or radical Fundamentalists killing physicians who have performed abortions.

And reading history doesn’t make this uneasiness with certainty go away.  How many of millions have perished at the hands of those who were certain in their beliefs, however misguided and wrong they may seem to us now?  Even in doing my genealogy I have come across so many atrocities done by my ancestors in the name of their beliefs that it makes me question the decision to look into the past at all.

That being said, I still sometimes envy those with that certainty and the comfort they seem to find in it.  My own beliefs, as they are, are always subject to questioning, always filled tinged with a bit of uncertainty.  But they still offer a degree of comfort.  Sometimes stopping as I walk and feeling the sun on my skin and gazing into the blue of the sky fills me with a feeling that seems transcendentally reverent in that moment.  The outer world fades for a brief second and I seem connected with something greater than this time and place.

That moment is my certainty, that thing on to which I hold as proof of something greater.  And that moment once in  a great while is all I ask of it.

So, with or without that certainty, whether you observe Easter or any other religion’s activity today, I wish you a great day.  But stop once in a while and just feel the sun on your skin and notice the color of the blue in the sky.  For this week’s music, here’s one of my all time favorites, Down in the Valley to Pray by the late great Doc Watson.  The simple elegance of his voice just carries this song for me.

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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.

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