Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Wall of Ancestors

When I lived on Wilson St I decorated the hall with family pictures and have been thinking about doing it here for quite awhile. This hall has been empty ever since the show Thom and I did, because I took the painting that hung there down to use the frame. At one time recently I spent hours hanging the huge painting I did for the Machias Show of Demeter holding the baby over the fire there. Shortly it became evident that it had to come down. It stunk from being in the cellar for so long. Apparently that's not a good place to store paintings, but I really don't have any other space for them. If they all get destroyed by mold and mice, at least I won't have to worry about who will have to trash them after I'm dead.

Speaking of dead, I took the boxes of old pictures out of my bedroom closet, where I discovered the ceiling had fallen down. The boxes were covered with plaster, but nothing was ruined. As I cleaned the glass over the familiar faces, I recognized each one immediately. Many of them I never knew in person, but their frozen faces are very familiar to me..........Campbells, Picards, Littlefields, Edgerlys, St. Germains, Gratteaux. They have all become their pictures in the same way that "the poet has become his poems." (I forget who wrote that about Yeats after he died.) It's the only way I can think of them. I wonder if they liked the portraits that were taken of them, and if it ever occurred to them that their descendants would only see them in one, tw0-dimensional way. Probably they did, because they obviously took such care to look their best in front of the camera. On my wall of ancestors there are only beautiful babies, lovely women, and handsome men. These people never wear rumpled clothes or leave their hair uncombed. Their glasses are sparkling clean. Their skin is flawless. None of them smile, though considering their now-living progeny, they probably had ugly and missing teeth. Whatever faults they hid on picture-taking day died with them.

In the present day we carry our digital cameras and snap hundreds of many that, should they survive into posterity, no one will care to wade through them. There will be no one representational image for anybody to fix in their mind's eye. We will live on as a name only, like Phinneas Longfellow, clerk of courts, who signed my great-grandfather's naturalization papers April 26, 1866 just 48 miles away in Machias. I can make my own picture of Phinneas, which is actually probably as accurate a representation of him as the pictures on the wall are of my relatives.

Anyway, I like having all those portraits on the wall. They remind me of where I came from, and also where I am going.
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