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Posts Tagged ‘Icons’

GC Myers- Icon- Peter the ScoundrelThis painting, a new 24″ by 20″ canvas, is titled Icon: Peter the Scoundrel.  This may not be my favorite painting from the Icon series that I’ve been working on as of late but this has been by far the hardest piece for me to complete.  It just kept going and going and I completely repainted the head and face at least six different times.  Each face never felt right and I could not get a handle on how I wanted to portray the person behind this painting.

Actually, I could never get a handle on this person, period.

His name was Peter Bundy, my 3rd great grandfather and he is buried in an old cemetery in Caton, just outside of Corning.  It’s a cemetery that I knew well from my childhood, having spent a lot of time with my favorite cousin in Caton.  In fact, my cousin worked in the cemetery as a teen, digging graves by hand.  I never knew at the time how many ancestors of mine were buried right there but doing research on my family lines I found that there were dozens and dozens of relatives there including  this Peter Bundy.

His grave stone says that he was born in Scotland in 1823 and served in the Civil War with the Ohio 75th Regiment.  Doing a bit of research I found a veteran’s pension record from the 1890’s that stated he had been captured and held at the infamous Andersonville Prison Camp.  That same record listed him as having an aliasCharles McKinney.  My mind began to imagine that perhaps he was a Union spy.

If only it could have been that simple.

A few years passed and one day I had a message about my family line on the Ancestry site.  It was from a family who had done research on their family line and had found that my gr-grandfather Peter Bundy was also their gr-grandfather.  Except that he had a different wife and a different name– Levi McProuty.  It turns out that my Peter Bundy held that name and married  under it in the years before the Civil War.   Living in western Steuben County, they had two children, a boy and two girls, before he ostensibly left in 1861 to serve in the Union army.  A year or so later, his wife was informed somehow that he had been killed in combat.

She and her children never saw him again.

It seems that in the year that he was gone, he had shed the name of Levi McProuty,  married my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Everetts, and had a child, my 2nd gr-grandmother.  While he may not have even served in the war as Levi McProuty, he did leave for service in the Civil War as Peter Bundy.  He returned to his second wife and child.

However, for the next twenty or so years, he didn’t show up in any public records.  But his wife and child did– his wife under the name of McKinney and his daughter under her married name.  He showed up in some veterans’ pension records  and the census before dying in 1901.  His wife died in 1915.  Both were listed under the Bundy name.

I don’t know if this is clearly written so that you can follow it– I know that it is so convoluted that I have trouble keeping it straight in my head.

So, was he really Peter Bundy or Levi McProuty?  Or Charles McKinney?  Or somebody completely different?  Was he even born in Scotland?  I find myself thinking that he may not have even served in the war, that he may have stolen the identities of other soldiers.  How he ended up serving in an Ohio regiment– Ohio being several hundred miles away– is another question that comes to mind.  Was his time at Andersonville just another lie? I don’t know if anything that is considered factual about this person is indeed real except for the fact that this person, my great-great-great grandfather, lived for a time and died in Caton–that’s on his gravestone.

And that he was a scoundrel.  That is not on his stone.

I think it’s this doubt that fed the troubles I had with this painting.  I could never see a face or a facial expression that suited this person because I never had an idea of his truth.  And just when I thought I would have a sense of him, there was always a new twist with which to contend.  When I had the different faces on this figure I felt a lot of discontent and anxiety, even waking up in my sleep thinking about it.

So yesterday morning, I came into the studio and decided to just simply put him in a mask.   A grinning, mocking mask that let’s me know that I don’t really know him and I doubt that I ever will.

 

 

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GC Myers- Icon-EleazerWhen you delve back into your ancestry you often uncover surprises, some pleasantly exciting and some a bit disappointing.  In some cases, it’s a bit of both.  Such is the case of the person behind this latest painting from my current Icons series.  This piece is 24″ by 12″ on masonite and is titled Icon: Eleazer.

The person represented here is a fellow named Eleazer Lindsley.  He was born in Morristown, New Jersey in 1737, a member of the family that founded much of that area.  He did well in the years before the American Revolution, owning a grist mill and several other businesses.  He was a man of status that was increased with his participation in the war.  He served as a Colonel and acted as an aide-de-camp to both General George Washington and General Lafayette.  Both were guests in his home at various time and Lafayette personally gifted and placed a signet ring on Eleazer’s hand in appreciation. It was never to come off and was buried with him when he died in 1794.

After the war, for some reason Eleazer chose to leave the comforts of his home state and set out with his extended family to settle in the newly acquired frontier territory.  After the war, the government took much of the land in what is now central and western NY and divided it into parcels that were given to those who served in the war as a form of payment for their services rendered.  Under these Land Patents, a private might receive 200 acres, moving up through the ranks to a general who might receive 2000.   When Eleazer and his family arrived in this area they collectively held 6000 acres.

They settled just south of what is now Corning, NY, occupying a fertile river valley.  Today, much of the area probably still looks relatively unchanged from that time with most of the land still in fields and forests. This area is now the town of Lindley— they dropped the “s” from the name in the 1840’s for some reason.  Eleazer became the first state assemblyman from the area.  He was also active in a plan to secede from NY and from a new state consisting of the area that is now central and western NY.  When he died in 1794, this plan died as well, although it has periodically been thrown out there by upstaters over the years.

There’s a lot more to tell about Eleazer, much to be proud of,especially for someone like me who grew up near the area and never knew of my connection with the founders.  But there was also one dark fact that taints the whole story.

You see, when Eleazer arrived in their new home their party consisted of about 40 members, most of them my ancestors.  But among the group were also seven slaves.  The family story, much of which is contained in family papers and documents held now at the University of  Michigan, claim that the slaves were treated as family members, one being called Uncle Pap, and that they were eventually emancipated in the very early 1800’s.  A story written in the late 1800’s says that many of the slaves settled and raised families in the area.

Now, part of me wants to believe that part of the story or to write it off as simply being an accepted thing at the time–after all, Washington, Jefferson and so many other Founding Fathers had slaves.  But the fact remains that Eleazer owned slaves and it bothers me that he somehow justified that in his mind, especially given that he so heartily participated in a war of independence.

When painting this piece, I found it hard to not make him a bit harsher in his gaze.  Though there is no evidence of mistreatment,  he holds a pair of shackles in his hands as a symbol of slavery.

When you do genealogy you often find yourself hoping for and attributing high ideals to your ancestors.  You want to see them in the very best light and tend to set aside negatives.  But as you dig more and more, you find that they are simply the same flawed humans that we encounter every day, possessing good and bad qualities. I often find myself wondering if I would personally like these ancestors.  But, like him or not, Eleazer is part of my family tree. But I do like this painting, if only for the narrative behind it.  I think the dichotomy of light and dark elements in the story are exactly what I hope for in this series.

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GC Myers- Icon-William EnglandAs pointed out in recent posts, I’ve been working on a group of new work that I am calling Icons, images that put people that I have come to know through doing some genealogical work.  They are not intended to be accurate depictions of these ancestors.  In each case, I have just found something compelling that sticks with me.  Such is the case with the painting above, a 10″ by 20″ canvas that I call Icon: William England.

I grew up knowing almost nothing about my ancestry.  In fact, I thought that a generation or two back, somebody had inadvertently tipped over a big rock and we had spurted out before they could put the rock back in place.  Not a lot of esteem at that point.  So it was a thrill as each new layer of our family history was uncovered.  I was pleased to see how many ancestors served in all of the wars of our country going back hundreds of years.  Many had fought in the American Revolution.

It turns out, on both sides of the conflict.

I can’t remember the source but I read once that during the revolution the American public was divided pretty evenly into three parts: a third that desperately wanted our independence from Britain, a third that wanted to remain part of the British Empire and a third that really didn’t care either way so long as they could live their lives as they had up to that point.  The  first group, of course, were the Patriots that we have come to believe was everyone living in America at that point and the second were the Loyalists who identified themselves as British living in the America colony.

One of my ancestors was a man named William England who fell into the Loyalist group.  Born in Staffordshire, England, he came to America as a teen and settled in the Saratoga Springs area of New York after serving in the British 60th Regiment during the French and Indian War.  He purchased a farmstead in Kingsbury, NY and was settled in when the Revolution broke out.Faced with the choice of breaking from his homeland or remaining loyal, he chose to protect what he felt was his British homeland.

Serving as a Sargeant with McAlpin’s Rangers, he fought in a number of battles including Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga.  British troops and families were driven north into Canada, settling in the Three-Rivers area of Quebec.  It was there that he, along with many other Loyalists, settled and raised his family in the years after the war, most of his children integrating through marriage into the early families of French Canada.

Many worked their way back into America in the late 1800’s, including his grand-daughter Mary England who died in St. Regis Falls, NY in 1896.  She was my 3rd great grandmother who was married to Jean-Baptiste Therrien.  Many of their children’s names were anglicized from Therrien to Farmer when they moved into NY.  I came across a photo of her when she was quite old and you can see the hardness of rural Canadian life written in her face.

This painting shows the conflict ( or at least the conflict I perceive) that took place in William England when the war broke out.  He had to make a hard decision, one that cost him his farm and all of his possessions, in order to stay loyal to his homeland.  He had to break the bond ( shown here in the form of the broken tree limb) with the America that emerged and face a new life in a territory he did not know.

We all have interesting twists in our family trees, some that take us in directions we would never imagine.  While I am proud of my ancestors who fought for the American cause, I am equally pleased with the loyalty and devotion shown by William England.

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GC Myers Icon-Gilbert 2016This is the next step in the Icon series of paintings that I talked about a few days ago.  It’s an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I call Gilbert, going with the French pronunciation–  more jill-bear than gill-bert.  There’s a reason for that.

I had mentioned using this Icon series showing plain folks leading simple and uncelebrated lives in the pose and style of religious icon paintings.  But because these are personal pieces for me (by that I mean that these paintings are being done for me alone at this point) I decide to try to channel the spirit  of an ancestor into these pieces.  Kind of like the spirit portraits that famed folk portraitist William Matthew Prior did in the  19th century, where he would  paint a portrait of a dead person’s supposed spirit which of course didn’t look anything like their actual physical form.

I’m not claiming to be painting spirits here.  I don’t have that ability or the proper amount of belief to even attempt that.  But from doing genealogy I have come across figures that stand out for me, people that sometimes make me proud and sometimes make me not so proud.  Both have an attraction for me because as I stated  in the post about Frank the Icon,  I believe we are all capable of being both gods and monsters and every family has its fair share of both.  I thought it would be interesting to do  a take on those folks, good and bad, in the iconic form.

Gilbert is based on my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, a renowned lumberman of the early Adirondacks.  I have never seen a picture of him nor do I know much of him on a personal level.  He died nearly 25 years before I was born and was born in 1855.  But using old newspaper accounts and historic records I have been able to piece together a life that was based on life in the forests of the Adirondacks.  He went out his own at age 17 and immediately had a contract and a crew of workers to bring in a large number of logs in the burgeoning logging business of the late 19th century.

This was a time when the work was all by hand and the transport was all by horse sleds or by river.  The accounts of some of the river drives are pretty amazing.  Itw as time when being a cowboy or a logger were the most exciting jobs in the land. I read an account from the Atlantic magazine of that time that detailed a day in one of his camps.  Fascinating stuff.

He was  well known and did well in the Adirondack lumber world, at one point employing over 350 men and owning more than 50 teams of horses.  Born of French-Canadian descent, he brought many French-Canadian loggers and their families into this country.  That’s where the jill-bear comes from.  His nickname was Jib.

I wrote last year of going to North Lake in the Adirondacks where several of his logging camps had been located and standing on a dam that he had first built there in the 1890’s.  It was great to be in that space and air, not so unchanged as of yet from his time.  The sheer quietness of the place and the light of the sky off the lake made me think of how he must have felt in his early days, axe in hand and a huge task before him.  I think he was probably a happy man in that moment.

There’s more I could tell but it’s probably not that interesting to anyone outside my family.  And even many of them have eyes that glaze over when I do speak of it.  I will spare you that but his is how I choose to see my great-grandfather.

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Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures.

–Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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GC Myers Frank the Icon 2016This is one of the new pieces I have been working on.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to show it in this state, as it is unfinished, or even when it is finished.  But as it progressed it began to grow on me and was meeting my expectations for what I wanted from it.  So, I thought I would show it and talk a bit about this piece, a 12″ by 24″ canvas that I tentatively calling Frank the Icon.

The idea for this came about from my admiration of religious icon painting and something I read in the foreword of a David McCullough book I recently started reading.  In it McCullough talked about history , while being documented in large and grand acts, often turns on the actions of ordinary people doing small but significant things that inspire or lead others to do those greater deeds.  It made me wonder who these people were today whose everyday  deeds would help rewrite our future history.

I thought it might be interesting to show ordinary figures painted in the style of an icon but in my own style of painting,  And that how Frank came about.  Early on, I was underwhelmed by this piece and could feel the effects of my recent absence from painting.  But midway through it began to pull at me in a way painting sometimes does for me, urging me on with small hints at what might be ahead.  It was an excitement I haven’t felt in a while and it felt very good indeed.  I truly wanted to see what was coming.

There are many things I like about this piece.  Even though I will admit to it being flawed ( as are most of my paintings) there is something in it that makes it alive for me, something that speaks to inner parts of me.  It has a real presence here in the studio and it is easy to engage with him as I walk around and the gold halo seems to push his countenance forward even more.

Cheri came into the studio and after looking at it asked why I hadn’t painted bolts on his neck.  She said he reminded her of the Frankenstein creature.  I could see that as well and thinking about it made me realize that there was something to this idea of an icon with beings that were capable of beings both gods and monsters.

As are we all.

That’s where the quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came in.  It is compelling and fitting, this idea of a naive creature who suffers the suffering and misery of being a lone being in this world, finding comfort in experiencing anew the  beauty of this world that we who know it so well often take for granted.  It even speaks of the halo.

So, that is here I am with this piece.  I am still up in the air as to where it will lead, if anywhere.  Part of me wants to continue with a series of icons but part of me is hesitant.  We shall see…

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Whether you have a belief system that encompasses the resurrection story of Christ, the basis for the Easter holiday, or you don’t, there is great potency in the symbolism of this story.  The idea of the death of one self and the rebirth of another transfigured self is perhaps one of the most powerful paradigms of mankind and personal evolution.

I am drawn to the resurrection imagery used in religious icons from the medieval time to the present.  There is a great beauty and power in these images and a consistency in the placement of the symbols used, as though the constant  use of a formal pattern  hints at the universality of the story’s transformative power as a possible template for every person’s life.  We all have the possibility of change, of transfiguration, within our own lives.  It may not entail literal death and rebirth,  but it can be a transformation of the self and spirit.  This is not about religion but about a sea change in the way we view and live in this world.

Personal resurrection.

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