Thursday, July 28, 2011

Breaking Through Logjams

Ever hit a point where you are stuck in your research and not really sure where to go next?  I’ve learned to trust that new directions will come, but that I have to actively seek out new information and connections for that to happen.  An opportunity to do just that will occur next month. Each summer Jewish genealogists gather for the International Jewish Genealogy Conference.  This year it is in Washington, DC, although many are already planning ahead for next year’s conference in Paris.  I am no exception hoping to meet with a third cousin in Paris who I’ve connected with via e-mail after tracing the family through records from the International Tracing Service.  But first we have one more American conference and DC is a good location as it is home to the National Archives and the Holocaust Museum as well as other resources that I look forward to learning more about. 

I’ve begun to peruse the schedule to figure out what to attend and like many conferences it forces choices between sessions that are often equally appealing.  An excellent film festival accompanies the conference so one could easily attend only films and be quite content. 

A resource center offers many databases that are not normally available without fees and many of my breakthroughs have come at the conference through those resources.  In Chicago an obituary I found gave me information that allowed me to trace a sibling of my great-great grandfather back to Belarus.  At the LA conference the Jewish Chronicle gave me core information on my British and Scottish relatives that subsequently made sense when I gathered one more puzzle piece.  This year I noted that there are several British newspaper archives as well as that very useful Jewish Chronicle to continue my UK search.

The conference also piques my interest in a variety of new areas, continually expanding my knowledge base and sending me off in new directions.  At the last conference I learned how to create search engines that I incorporated into my Shtetlink websites.  I first became interested in learning Russian from a conference workshop a few years ago and later became intrigued with social and political history from a historian’s lecture.  At the last conference I attended a workshop on creating family histories through interviews and committed to doing one in the following year.  With twelve completed between my Jewish Identity & Legacy project and my Radom project, I knocked that one out of the ballpark.  The presenter from last year is now doing a seminar on using visual images as part of family stories, something I know a little about as an artist.  He’s asked to include one of my paintings in his talk so I’ll have to attend that one.

The conference is also a good opportunity to meet with genealogy friends, both old and new.  As I do two Shtetlinks, I frequently am contacted for information by others researching family from those towns.  The conference will allow me to meet several of my correspondents.

For those of us who have had considerable success in our research the challenge is always where to go from here.  The conference is a good way to break through those logjams through meeting with others and learning of new approaches.  I’m not quite sure where this one will lead, but I’ve learned that if one comes to it eager to learn and curious about new information, the unexpected may just happen.  For more information on the conference see 2011 IAJGS Conference.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Destroying and Re-creating

Yesterday I was in the studio destroying paintings.  Well, not exactly destroying, but in the middle of my process it would certainly have appeared that way.  I have a show coming up in September where I will be showing my two series of work that were exhibited in London and Poland.  There are two paintings with which I have never been completely satisfied.  As you may recall, I had repainted my original paintings, which were on board, onto canvas for the London show to facilitate shipping.  In doing so I sometimes was able to improve on a painting, but I didn’t always succeed in a second version that I liked as much as the first.  Often I would try to change one aspect to improve a painting, only to discover that there were other aspects that I hadn’t re-created successfully that made the painting work.  I couldn’t see that clearly until my second attempt provided a contrast.  It wasn’t that the painting didn’t work on its own.  It just wasn’t the original.  Ultimately I had to accept that it was OK for my second versions to stand on their own as unique and separate paintings even if their inspiration came from a prior painting.

But now, I eyed them and contemplated whether I dared to take a paint brush to them.  Is a painting ever done?  It seemed that my semi-abstract paintings were the most challenging.  The originals often had happy accidents that resulted in an effect that I couldn’t seem to re-create. Then in a moment of bravery I began to destroy my paintings.

I find that it is very difficult to destroy in order to create, yet some of my favorite work has arisen from such actions, once totally painting over a painting and turning the subtle image that remained into a new artwork. I admire people who don’t hesitate to start anew, confident that they will land on their feet.  I’ve had to learn to take those leaps and there is always a swallow-hard moment that precedes them.  Whether it is painting out a painting, or leaving a job to venture out on one’s own, each requires an act of letting go, ending one path to find another.  I suspect there is a constellation of traits that define those of us who struggle with such choices.  I’m a bit of a packrat, not good at getting rid of things.  I keep them for history or because I might want them some day or simply because I don’t know what to do with them.  But I admire my friends with streamlined lives and aspire to at least move in that direction.  I think it is by letting go that we make room for the new and that is true in life as well as in paintings.

Five years ago I made that leap in my own life, leaving a career in finance to focus on my artwork and family and cultural history.  And there were quite a few swallow-hard moments that preceded that.  It wasn’t that I didn’t paint or explore family history while I worked, but I did it in a different way, not as intensely, not as focused and not as much in the flow, letting the process unfold.  I do consult periodically, but my new life has gradually been expanding to fill the available space.  In the period since I left my job I’ve gone in new directions.  I did my first solo show, followed by many more and then several international shows.  I began to do public speaking about my artwork and family history and discovered that when you enjoy what you do, it is a natural next step to share it.  And when you are passionate about what you do, that enthusiasm is contagious.  I discovered the power of story and began exploring that further in my artwork and I started painting in series because a stand alone painting wasn’t enough to tell the stories I wanted to tell.  Before long I was creating multi-dimensional projects because the stories demanded it.  I began to partner with organizations and individuals and I accessed technology, creating web sites, video-editing and yes, blogging.  Often I traveled to find the stories I painted.  In recent years I’ve spent a total of four months overseas in eleven countries.  Had you told me five years ago that was what I would be doing, I might have not had so many swallow-hard moments, but I would have missed out on the joy of discovering each new opportunity on my path.

So I’ve learned that letting go of “good enough” while hard, is a necessary step to get to something that I may find more satisfying, whether in a painting or in my life.  And as for those paintings, I left my studio pleased with my newly re-created paintings.  We’ll see how they appear when I view them with fresh eyes today.