This is my first blog. When considering the subject, I immediately thought of my paternal grandmother – her name was Dorothy. I never knew her – she passed away years before I was born. And I never knew much about her, except that she was rather shy, sensitive, and impossibly kind. Yet I feel a strong connection to her in the work that I do. She was a painter, and I often feel that in my work as a photographer I am really striving to create a painting with film. Moreover, she exhibited her paintings in the same art museum where decades later I would show my photography – the Racine Art Museum. She painted in both watercolor and oil, and though she would dabble in cityscapes or the occasional still-life, it was the natural landscape that she favored as a subject – a passion I would eventually discover for myself.
She was born and raised in my hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, and aside from a brief time as a nanny in Chicago she spent her entire life in Racine. But her paintings were of places that were far away – places she never would have had the means to visit. She could only read about them or see them in pictures. Dorothy kept scrapbooks, filled with postcards or clippings from newspapers and magazines; they were often re-purposed books of wallpaper swatches. She sketched and painted from those images of far-away places, and I imagine her to have been a dreamer who longed to travel. She must have had, as I do, a sense of wanderlust – driven simply by the need to find out what lies beyond the next hill.
My family is fortunate to own more than 30 of Dorothy’s paintings, along with a number of her scrapbooks. I share some of her work with you, dear reader, along with some of my photographs that I am certain were spurred on by her. There have been many times when I’ve created an image, only to realize it was something my grandmother had already painted. Though I never met her, I often feel familiar threads connecting us to one another. Curiously enough, the portraits of her that you see on this page were created by her husband – my paternal grandfather Ward Lee.