March 24, 2008

Mow Work for Mom – Women’s Work is Never Done #3

My third painting in the Woman’s Work is Never Done series of “work portraits” is of my maternal grandmother Doris Elliott Garlock, which was my mom’s Christmas gift for 2007. The painting, from a faded family photo c. 1945, shows my grandmother, mother of seven at the time (eventually eight), taking a break from washing diapers, raising toddlers through teens, preparing meals, and all manner of other “wifely” chores, to cut the grass with a push lawnmower: “Mow Work for Mom.”


“Mow Work for Mom,” Susan K. Donley, 2008. 15×11 inches, colored pencil on paper. Collection of Janice Donley.

View a larger version of this painting and read more about Mom’s experience minding her New Jersey homefront during and after World War II at…

ToteOr check out gifts and gear featuring this image at Cafepress.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the series — another down on the farm — later this week…

March 21, 2008

Aunt Hazel at the Telegraph – Woman’s Work is Never Done #2

My second painting in the Woman’s Work is Never Done series of “work portraits” is of my great-aunt Hazel, a telegrapher at the East Palestine, Ohio Postal Telegraph office: “Aunt Hazel at the Telegraph.”


“Aunt Hazel at the Telegraph,” Susan K. Donley, 2007. 11×15 inches, colored pencil on paper. Collection of Janice Donley.

View a larger version of this painting and read more about the Hazel’s experience as a “girl geek,” circa 1915…

t-shirtOr check out gifts and gear featuring this (Morse) coder at Cafepress.

Stay tuned for the next installment in the series — one of my grandmother — later this week…

March 19, 2008

Aunt Teen on her Tractor – Woman’s Work is Never Done #1

As promised, in honor of Women’s History Month (March), I’m unveiling a series of “work portraits” called “Woman’s Work is Never Done.” First in the series: “Aunt Teen on her Tractor.”


“Aunt Teen on her Tractor,” Susan K. Donley, 2006. 15×11 inches, colored pencil on paper. Collection of Janice Donley.

See a larger version of this painting and read more about the story behind it…

Tote

Just for fun I’ve added a Woman’s Work section to my Cafepress store to create some fun gear honoring our hard-working foremothers

Stay tuned for the next installment in the series later this week…

March 17, 2008

Woman’s Work is Never Done: Honoring the Labor of our Foremothers

When I browse our family albums, I skip quickly though the dressed-up holiday line-ups with carefully combed hairstyles, but stop to linger over the “good stuff.” For me, the good stuff are the candid shots that capture a slice of everyday life. Give me wrinkled clothes and tussled hair every time! Those are the shots that transport me to another time to glimpse the lives of my ancestors, revealing moments they thought were important enough to record on precious film.

Rarest among these slice-of-life photos are those that picture folks working. When I run into those shots, I zero in for a good, long look! Teams of horses pulling wagons, sawmills, tractors, yoked oxen, feeding chickens — bring them on! I love these images and never miss the chance to ask older relatives what they remember about these chores to reconstruct the story behind the photos with the help of my mother and brother, my co-conspirators in this genealogical quest.

Woman’s Work is Never Done

Among my favorite workaday photos are those showing women at work, driving tractors or oxen, feeding livestock, manning the telegraph, as well as more traditional household chores. How arrogant are we to proclaim the late 1900s as the era of the “Working Woman”! Women have always pitched in whenever there was work to be done.

teen-tractor-photo-300.jpgA couple of years ago, I decided to use one of these photos as the basis of a painting for my mother for Christmas: my Great Aunt “Teen” in overalls riding a tractor in the 1920s. The tiny black-and-white snapshot was beat up and faded, so the first task was scanning and restoring the photo as well as I could. Then I gathered other photos of Teen, since her face in the tractor photo was heavily shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat.

At first I planned to do the painting in full color, thinking that would bring the scene back to life. But the color sketch just looked fake — I liked the black-and-white better. Maybe I could duplicate the illusion of faded color that I often experience when I look long enough at an old sepia photo print? I decided to try using Prismacolor’s three different hues of gray colored pencils — warm gray, cool gray, and French gray — to apply subtle coloration to a monochrome image. I loved the effect and, more importantly, I loved working on the painting, a kind of narrative portrait. My respect for Teen grew as I drew and learned more of her story of helping out the family during very difficult times.

telegraph-office-photo-300.jpgBefore I finished the painting, I already knew I wanted to honor the other women caught working in my family album in a series called (naturally!) “Woman’s Work is Never Done.” Next Christmas, I gave my mom the second in the series, a work portrait of her Aunt Hazel, a telegrapher in East Palestine, Ohio.

mom-mowing-phot-300.jpgThis past Christmas my mom’s gift was a painting of her mom, taking a break from washing diapers to mow the grass with a push mower. Just in case raising seven kids wasn’t enough work!

Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m unveiling these first paintings of what I hope are many in the “Woman’s Work is Never Done” series. This week, I’ll post the paintings, along with the stories behind the women and their work. I don’t know where this series is headed, but invite anyone who has intriguing photos and stories of their foremother’s labor to get in touch with me at sue@petspictured.com.

What do the paintings look like? Stay tuned!

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