Like my ancestors, I make my living from the land. They farmed and Tanned hides, tended orchards and sheep, milled wool and flour, quarried bluestone and harvested timber from their wood lots. Theirs was an idyllic life dependent on their land and devoted to the other families who were their beloved community in the Esopus Valley.
By 1915, their homes, barns and mills were destroyed, their land "grubbed" and burned, their buried ancestors exhumed and relocated, the iconic waterfall that powered their mills flooded, their lives irrevocably and forever changed. As their livelihoods were also torn from them, some were paid to disassemble their lives, piece by piece: $15 to unearth the remains of an ancestor at rest and $3 to move his headstone. Others were paid to dismantle and move the churches and schoolhouses that held their most sacred moments. Their lives would never be the same, and the weight of that loss is still evident in the landscapes I depict and is woven into the emotional fabric that is part of my family's legacy.
I gather images and words at the shoreline of the Ashokan Reservoir and often imagine them during their lifetime or during their exodus. A propane tank loosed after heavy rains riffs on displacement, the silhouette of a flock of starlings resembles an upturned coal skuttle. Winter vegetation recalls The handcrafted broom she used to sweep out her ancestral home before it was razed. Often the weather patterns I study there seem to depict this unthinkable diaspora as a summer storm brews or a winter sunset unfolds.
This offering is for them. That their sacrifice will not be forgotten, their beautiful, fruitful lives will be remembered, and to let them know that their great granddaughter's daughter is here to tell their story, and is still listening for them.