Posted by: mkl325 | March 28, 2013

The Origins of My Art History


In center of this picture is a man, with a glorious mustache, name James Connell Herbert. He is sitting amongst his students at a school he taught while living in Florida in the late 19th Century. He is also my great-grandfather. Image


James was born in 1864 in Scotland and moved with his family to the United States when he was around 8 years old. The family legend is that James’ parents, natives of Ireland, did not like that their children were starting to speak with a Scottish accent. He supported himself and his family as a painter in whatever context he could, taking commissions for train stations and schools, and teaching, but he was also able to complete some of his own work.

Such as this painting…Image

For as long as I can remember, this painting hung in our living room. It hung over the fireplace, and anytime there was a family gathering, or all the power went out due to an ice storm (not a completely uncommon event in D.C.) everyone would be gathered underneath it.  I used to spend time making up stories about the people in the painting or spend time searching for a signature that I was sure was hidden somewhere amongst the trees or the water. I developed a connection with James through his work, wondering if he was a violent painter that attacked the canvas or if he was more like Bob Ross, painting little “happy trees” and clouds. Most likely he was neither, just a man with a need to interpret life on a canvas and spent his life trying to marry his artistic ambitions and his obligations to his family. After his death, he was only 61, my great-grandmother, Anna, tore the painting to shreds. There are large marks, carefully hidden, from where Anna ripped the painting apart. My grandfather held onto the pieces, for decades, until his death when my Mom had the painting restored. I do not know a lot of personal information about my great-grandfather, as my grandfather died when I was very young, but I do know the impression his life and work has left on my family. One of his sons became an artist, another (my grandfather) encouraged a love of art in my mother. My mother, in turn, began taking us to museums when we were very young and taught us to treat them and revere them as though we were in a Church. My siblings and I all have artistic aspects to our lives, one of my sisters has a degree in photography, that have been encouraged since I can remember. 

I am now back in the country where James was born, studying the ins and outs of the discipline he committed his life to. In all the art I have seen, and all the artists that I love, my ideal of a perfect piece of art is still that torn painting that sat above the fireplace. 



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