Stories gather up parts of us and put them together in a way that gives our lives greater meaning than they had before we told our story. Robert Atkinson
Valerie Atkisson is telling her story in a most marvelous way. A visual artist by training, with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York, Valerie has given voice to her story over the past decade by depicting the stories of her ancestors, and ultimately herself, through her artwork.
Of Valerie's Hanging Family History, made of copper wire and rice paper, and which was on exhibit at the D.U.M.B.O. Arts Center, New York City in 2000, author Amy Howell Jameson writes: “each triangle is an ancestor, linked together at the corners, parents connected to children…Valerie’s name is on the triangle at the very top, and she holds her entire known genealogy below her, over 5,000 names."
There is also Valerie’s Matriarchal Line, 1999, portraits painted first on paper, then directly on walls, which traces the stories of her grandmothers, and their grandmothers, with a delightful painting of herself as a young girl. As we dare to dream, we can thank our ancestors, in part, for the unique talents and gifts that help us piece ourselves together.
When asked about the inspiration for her artwork, Valerie writes, “[Growing up] I didn’t feel like I had one place that I was from. There was not a house or place that I could [call home]. But I knew a lot about whom I was from, and I had been to the places that they were from.” (In knowing this, Johnson Home, Trondheim Norway, 2001, a watercolor of an ancestral home, becomes more meaningful for her and for us). Summarizing, Valerie writes:
My art traces my lineage, a journey of generations, going back 2000 years, my identity [having been] shaped piece by piece by these 5,000 individuals.
As you take a closer look at the detail of Hanging Family History, imagine your name, instead of Valerie’s, on the tip-top triangle. How do you feel?
Is there a particular ancestor with whom you identify? Is it because you have a gift or talent in common? Is it a gift you will tap into as you dare to dream?
What stories do you need to tell to make meaning of your life?