Photography made me wonder deeply about our family’s motley archive that had survived more than a century. As a result, it drove me to an extreme side turn in my work as an artist. Almost seven years ago I chose to allow a pursuit in scholarly and genealogical study take precedence over my studio work. The cumulative effort resulted in a book, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics of New Haven County, Connecticut.
To make and work with photographs was not new to me. This has factored in myriad ways into my artwork for decades. But to remain literal and to study photographs as if they would eventually begin to speak aloud to me in revelation was a different approach. Over time many images did overtly reveal themselves, and some seemed to serve as helpmates, guiding and supporting my research. The identities of a few individuals depicted in our family albums have remained elusive, although I know their visages by heart. The entire collection has become significant to me, and I hold out the hope that I may yet identify more.
I am currently preparing to show my favorite images from this project at Amalie Rothschild Gallery, Creative Alliance, Baltimore, Maryland, from March 1 to 23. The opening reception, Friday night, March 1, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will also be a book signing. I welcome all who might be near enough to drop by. During this show my book will be available for $60.
When a body of artwork wraps itself up, it is natural for an artist to review it somewhat dispassionately in order to attempt to determine which pieces are the strongest and gauge the success of the whole. This project produced more distinct images than I can possibly count. Beyond the existence of so many new and preserved photographs was added the exponential capacity for digital altering of any one source and for the saving of each in multiple ways.
Some of these works were renewed from originals that had almost entirely disappeared from their supports. Some depict tombstones from several Connecticut and Ireland cemeteries. Most served as illustrations for the content of my book. For individual talks at the Naugatuck Historical Society and the Mattatuck Museum I included particular ones in Power Point presentations. Throughout most of this project I have remained on the side of the archivist and chronicler. When I have altered images it has been done with a reverence that limited my ability to be too adventurous in the service of art, although I feel that some images have succeeded in transcending illustration.
For the Creative Alliance show I have chosen what I consider to be the most artful images, aiming to present them as the final statement of this project. It remains to be seen how many will be included after the on-site installation process in two weeks. The result, no doubt, will be as much a surprise to me as to any other viewer. I hope the show will be happily received by all.
©2013 Janet Maher/Sinéad Ní Mheachair
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