Back in June, we wrote about One House, a collaborative art project of the ArtWatch collective still in its early stages, intended to express “a vision of the U.S. where we are united as one people, with common principles of inclusion, tolerance, and equality”. The House was to be built of 12-inch squares, each by a different artist who expresses those principles through a visual representation of an ancestor who came to this country or was here prior to the Europeans.
One House is now completed and is on display at the Touchstone Gallery in Washington DC through November 25, 2017. This is well worth your visit! The house structure is sided with squares created by 220 artists from around the U.S. Visitors engage with the house as a whole as well as the individual squares that make it up. The squares show as much variety in artistic expression as they do the diversity of the artists’ own backgrounds. Together, they describe the U.S. as a complex web of individuals’ efforts to achieve freedom and better lives for their children.
Our previous article highlighted five participating artists from Anne Arundel County, the relatives celebrated in their panels, and the reasons they chose them. Since there was still time for more submissions when that article was written, other Anne Arundel County artists decided to tell their own stories by creating squares for One House. Some of them are related here.
Rima Kamal (Annapolis) is a Palestinian Arab who emigrated to the U.S. with her Jordanian husband in 1981 in search of economic opportunity. As a Palestinian with no homeland, she felt like an outsider in the four Arab countries she lived in prior to coming here.
With her square, she tried to answer the question “Who Am I?” To identify as Palestinian, she painted the leaf of a fig tree, common in the Middle East, surrounded by uneven strips of desert colors. Within the leaf, she drew folklore motifs used in the fine embroidery for which Palestinians are famous. To identify as a researcher (her chosen occupation), she included statistical formulas and graphs. She added her name in Arabic and a Turkish coffee cup, turned on its side in the saucer, representing the tradition of fortune telling from coffee grounds. Her fortune might be: “You are embarking on a long journey” – an apt description of Rima’s life.
Cindy Winnick (Annapolis) spent much of her adult life overseas with her husband in the foreign service. She said that his experience has given her empathy for foreign peoples, an understanding of what it is like to be an outsider and a realization that globalization is the best way to bring prosperity to all. She joined the One House project as a way to make a statement about these beliefs and protest anti-immigration, isolationist policies.
She chose to paint her great-grandmother, Susan Trainer Phillips. The portrait shows a lovely young woman whose life exemplified the absence of options and opportunities for women in the early part of the last century. Her family originally hailed from England, but Susan Trainer lived in Texas, married young and had four children. Abandoned by her husband when he had an affair, Phillips left three of her children with a relative in San Antonio and traveled to Oklahoma where she supported herself and the youngest child by working at a laundry. She contracted tuberculosis – possibly from her work – and died young. Even in America, opportunity and a better life did not come to everyone.
Painting is a major part of life for Marian Figlio (Crofton). Her aim is to depict a wide variety of people in a positive light. She chose her great-grandmother, Minda. Marian has developed a vivid image of her from the stories her mother – now 94 years old – still tells about her. Her mother’s memories sparked into a fuller depiction of Minda as Marian worked on her One House project.
Marian’s great-grandparents were Lithuanian Jews with six sons. Because of the anti-Jewish policies of the time, they feared their sons would be conscripted and would face harsh, lengthy military service. So Marian’s great-grandfather boarded a ship from Hamburg to Baltimore, got a job in Baltimore as a peddler, and saved up enough in six years to bring the rest of the family out – just in time for their oldest son to escape from conscription. It would have been hard for Minda to leave the life she knew and travel with six boys to a very different place. Her portrait shows a woman who has experienced many trials but came through them with head held high.
For Joanne Riley (Deale), participating in One House was all about heritage and love of family. Her square pictures her grandfather Antonio Piccioni who, with his wife, came over from Italy to Ellis Island in 1920. He emigrated for better work and a better life for his family. He became a lamplighter in Washington DC, was an accomplished stone mason, and had a small farm raising grapes and figs on what is now Maryland Avenue of Annapolis. One of those fig trees was replanted in Ocean City and is there today. The Piccioni family had 10 children. Today, they have 33 grandchildren, 66 great-grandchildren, 56 great-great-grandchildren and two great-great-great-grand children!
Corinna Woodard (Churchton) had one of the most unusual squares of the entire House, a needle-felted wool painting. It depicts her mother Karin Baingo, Corinna herself as a small child, and their dog, travelling to the U.S. from Germany in 1964, on a ship called – of all things – the Banana Core. Karin was a Pan Am flight attendant in Germany – a very glamorous and highly sought-after occupation in those days. She gave up her dream job, family and friends to join her husband, an American serviceman who had just been reassigned from Germany to Fort Benning Georgia. Corinna created this square to honor her mother. It was a brave move for her to leave behind the things and people she held dear to start a new life in America. Corinna created her square from memory, based on a photo she and her mother both recall but can no longer find.
As these stories suggest, the squares that make up One House tell a fascinating story of the U.S. as an amalgamation of individuals’ struggles to build better lives. As the Touchstone Gallery’s press release expresses, “As many artists have come together to make the One House Project, it is their hope that Americans come together to embrace the power found in a united people”.
Vivikka Molldrem is a former foreign service officer with the Agency for International Development who enjoys batik, mosaics, politics, and wirting the occasional article.
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