Family is a Sculpture? : This Art has Lived and Breathed

Hanging Family History

I’m green to genealogy. I started with MyHeritage some eight months ago. I got dosed in 1000 mph genealogy. I flapped my green wings to stay afloat; genealogy is a large, passionate, and integrated community. I mustered my entire wherewithal. It’s been a race. I’ve read and read and read, scavenged the net, pouring through blog metasearches, RSS feeds, community forums, tweets, following industry figureheads. I spend countless hours looking for clues into interesting family and genealogical news breaks with hopes to bring compelling information to our users. Genealogy has moved me; both literally, from my former residence back to the US, and emotionally, through countless touching user stories. I’ve been contacted by those who have found family anew, those who have revealed sadness or joy behind their family’s emigration, and those who stumble upon a simple fact that changes a piece of the why and who they are. Through my post, I’ve been fortunate to see talks about research methodology, to attend conferences, to meet in person our some of wonderful users, with whom I’ve chatted at large. I’ve seen your pictures and your years of hard work, with nothing more to protect them than a worn leather folder held tightly to its owners’ gut. I’ve been lucky to shake the mighty hand of industry titans such as Randy Seaver, Schelly Dardashti, and Dick Eastman. Through it all, through eight months, with mountains yet to approach, it seems to me that genealogy is a formal expression of human art, life art, as intimate and universal as any medium.

Two weeks ago I was at the National Genealogical Summit in Salt Lake City. There I met this realization with concrete evidence. Genealogy swathed in art. There were many artisans that explored the meeting of genealogy and art, from the conventional, to kitsch, to the ornate. It was here that I met Valerie Atkisson. She approached me at the booth and showed me how she married her passion for family history in her work.

Her family tree doesn’t look like yours. Well not exactly. It’s not hanging-out behind the cool glossy sheen of your laptop, nor is it overflowing drawers and dressers and folders in your house. It’s a bit more visceral – the tree has bite. Valerie Atkisson’s tree is a weeping willow dangling in still motion, a mobile history swaying in the weight of 72 generations, 2000 years of history, copper wire, and rice paper. The piece Hanging Family History is a monument of work.

Valerie’s entire portfolio is characterized by family history. It is the canvass that she dyes,

Commissioned Work

paints, and etches with  symbolic strokes of detail, for both personal and commissioned works. This trade, and unique niche, has brought considerable attention to Valerie. She has commissioned pieces across the country and has been honored as the recipient of Rema Hort Mann Foundation. This grant made it possible for her to travel to Norway for two months to study her family history, gather stories, and become the muse to Family in Norway, a 80 x 32 ft stairwell instillation at the Queens Museum of Art. The work meanders through the life stories of her family emigrating from Norway in the 1880s in colorful ribbons.

It was perhaps serendipity, which brought Valerie’s genealogical aesthetic to light. It all

Family In Norway: Queens Museum of Art NYC

began with a project she devised during her Masters degree at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. The ambition of her project was to make a self-portrait with known pieces of information about her family tree. She believed this project would help her further understand “who she was and where she was from.” What was planned as a short project ended up consuming the lion share of her next summer and became the vital information for her most important work to date, Hanging Family History.

Valerie works out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Her commissioned work is studied; she first collects information from the commissioner, as well as other interesting tidbits, to bring the visuals real life texture. To Valerie, the process is rewarding, and she is motivated by the stories, “I learn so much by illustrating them, and find others’ family history just fascinating.”

Valerie, we can’t wait to see what comes next!

You can find out more about Valerie’s work, hear interviews, and see more pictures of her works at the following sites:

We encourage any of you who meld genealogy and art to send in YOUR PROJECTS, with a small blurb about the project and what it means to you!

We’ll post the first fifteen we receive.

Please send entries to: , subject “Art/Genealogy”

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