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My family has been an important component of my life for as long as I can remember and the connection and bond that I have with my family runs very deep.  I have always had a close relationship with then and was blessed to grow up with four grandparents and a great-grandmother.  These bonds and connections have forged who I am today – a person who is sentimental, compassionate, passionate, artistic, and loves to cook.  My mother grew up not far from my own hometown, so visiting her extended family was a common occurrence when I was young.  Certain things have stuck with me from those visits, among them the stale cigarette smoke in the air, the plastic covers on the couches that made a distinctive sound and you would stick to in the Virginia summers, and Marjorie’s electric organ with all of its colorful knobs and buttons.  But there was something more subtle that stuck with me, the realization that everything which was precious to them was always out on display, sitting on a doily.


I have been privileged that several of these possessions were often passed down from one generation to the next, and these items help ground me within my family.  They provide a touchstone for my memories of relatives who have since passed away while also providing a tangible link to family members that I never knew.


In creating this project, I utilized a number of these heirlooms to create a lasting work that transcends a simple possession of the original item and allows it to be enjoyed by multiple members of the family.  Instead of simply photographing the specific object, I tied it to a specific photograph of the person it was associated with for a deeper context.  I wanted to give weight and validity to the item so that it was seen as something more than just a simple object, and to equate the personal and emotional connection to it.  When I lived in Philadelphia I suffered a catastrophic apartment fire and lost a lot of things that I considered to be precious and utterly irreplaceable, so by photographing these items for this project, I have created a new layer of permanence to them.  I used the cyanotype process to print these images onto doilies and handkerchiefs, which I mounted in shadowboxes, because in the end, be it a pair of glasses, a family recipe, or even patterns to a doll’s dress, these simple things exemplify that which is precious to me.




The first heirloom I used I discovered by accident when I stumbled across some clothing patterns in a frame.  Tucked behind the frame was an envelope containing the remaining patterns and a letter from my great-aunt & uncle to my mother explaining that the patterns were for a doll's dress that my great-grandmother Nana used to make a dress for a doll my grandfather Papa had when he was 3 years old. I scanned each pattern separately and increased their contrast in Photoshop.  Here, I was able to create a much more dynamic composition where I layered the patterns with a photograph of Papa when he was 3 years old. 

On a shelf below the shadowbox I placed an old doll similar to the one Papa would have had, along with some of the original patterns and the letter from my great aunt and uncle to my mother.




For my second heirloom, I used a photograph of my great-grandmother Nana with a copy of her recipe for soy.  It is a recipe that has been in our family for generations - Nana's grandmother originally created the recipe and I will be the sixth generation to make it.  Similar to a tomato chutney, it has been a staple at our Thanksgiving table for as long as I can remember.  I have a letter from Nana's sister to my grandmother with the recipe, which I placed over a photo of Nana around the time I remember her making soy. 

On the shelf below the shadowbox, I placed an empty jelly jar similar to the kind she used, signifying that it is my turn to start making soy, along with the letter from Nana's sister to my grandmother.




The third heirloom I chose was a pair of glasses worn by my great-grandmother, affectionately known as Bam. Despite never having met her, having her glasses provides me with a tangible link to her. There is an iconic photograph of Bam that everyone in the family has a copy of, a beautiful portrait of her when she was young, taken around the time of her marriage to my great-grandfather. I felt that this image would be a nice contrast with her glasses.

On the shelf below the shadowbox, I placed her glasses resting atop her glasses case, along with a photograph of her older wearing the same glasses. When combined with the cyanotype, they create bookends to the narrative of her life.

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