Sunday, 12 October 2008

Letter To America



The world has become smaller in terms of time and space. Communication is getting better and faster. Information technology and transport (ferries and air access), for small island societies has also improved greatly. For my peice i selected a letter published in our local paper in 1841." Preparing to Emigrate" Written by a Mr John MacIsaac, Ardnamonie - the letter clearly depicts a time of hardship and poverty. Prince Edward Island became home to many emigrants from the Hebrides in a bid to make a new start and through this letter we are able to experience, on a more personal level, the difficulties endured by the people of Uist at the time and share in the concerns of those who attempted to get themselves across the Atlantic to be with those who had already left. As a newcomer to the island, having moved recently from shetland i have found reaserching the past has given me a greater insight into the "sense and spirit" of this special place.


Iochdar 30th June 1841


My Dear Cousin
I was most happy to receive your excellent letter of May last, which was only thirty days on its way and was the most satisfactory letter that came to this place from that quarter for the last thirty years. You will be sorry to hear that the people in your native country are becoming poorer and poorer every year since you left. Colonel Gordon who is now the sole proprietor of all South Uist, Benbecula, and Barra, seems to be a very hard and selfish man, and the opinion generally entertained of him, is that the sooner people are quit of him, the better for them.Considerable numbers are going to America from Benbecula and some from Iochdar this same season, and many more are likely to go next season.
I myself would have gone this year but that I am resolved not to part with my poor aged father while he lives. The good old man is now very frail and requires all the kindness and attention that I can pay him. It is probable that next year will see me either in your Island or in Cape Breton. I request of you most earnestly to write me again soon after you receive this letter, and let me know how far my Uncles Neil and Donald MacAulay will assist me for the first twelve months after my arrival there. If those good men cannot or will not help me to support myself, my sisters, and my wife, I cannot venture to go there at all.All the means that I possess will do more than clear me out of this country and pay our passage money, but we are all healthy and I trust we would not be a burden upon our relatives there longer than the first year, and therefore I shall be preparing to emigrate. My wife is Mary, the eldest daughter left by Ian or John MacAllan who was in Carnan. Perhaps you have already heard that this decent man and his also decent wife died some years ago. She died of fever and he of inflammation in the brain. Our excellent Aunt Mary MacAulay spouse of Alexander MacDonald of Dugald died of consumption on the 7th of November 1839.
The rest of your relatives are nearly in the state that you left them. Donald your brother has this year removed from Garvyflinch to a croft here in Uchonasian. His eldest son Angus is now twenty years old, a stout fellow and a good shoemaker to trade. Mary the second eldest daughter is a smart promising girl and a good weaver, though only 13 years of age. Donald desires me to ask you would those two of his children do well in your island by their handicrafts, and also would he himself get his pension drawn there the same as here, for he has still some thoughts of emigrating although he has been baffled in it so often already. You say you have written four letters from that country. Only two of them reached us (received the first and the last). In the first you omitted to give your address completely, and therefore I could not write you with any chance that my letter would find you.Your stepmother and her son John are well and quite overjoyed by the encouragement your letters gives them in regard to America. They will be preparing to go next year. Alexander MacDonald your master, is married for some years to Marion the youngest daughter of Neil MacPhee Mason, son of Norman Ban of Aerdvachin (Ardamhachair). He has three young children.
Two of his brothers namely John from Uchonasian and Angus from Lianaquee (Linique) are going to Cape Breton this year, and it is most probable that Alex himself will follow them as soon as he can. Their father, poor old Lachlan is alive yet and very frail. Their mother Marianne, your Aunt, died 18th of April 1839. Since the month of July 1832 when you sailed for America, fifty-two persons, full-grown died in Iochdair. I cannot name them all but I shall give a few: Archie MacPhee of Neil Rhutharnish (Rughasinish), Norman Ban Ardbhachan (Aramhachair), Donald Mor MacCormick, Carnan, Mary McCormick, widow Balgarua (Balgarva), John McDonald son of John of Lachlan, Ardnamoner (Ardnamonie), Catherine MacIsaac daughter of Donald 'Goom' and Angus McDonald her husband and Flora her daughter in Killualay (Kilaulay), John McInnes of Finlay in Bualdu (Bualadubh) - Ronald MacDonald of Garryflinch, old Angus MacAulay in Balfarbee (Balgarva), a convert and also his wife Margaret Mor, and Archibald MacDonald, the biggest man in Iochdar being six feet five inches tall - May their souls rest in peace.Among other things you will let me know if the son of your Uncle John is a priest yet, and where he is.
You informed me before that the boy was in Rome in College. All your relatives unite with me in sending our love to your brothers and all your acquaintances request me to send you an offer of their very best wishes. Rev James MacGregor is quite well and happy in wishing me to say that your brother Neil was the best servant lad he ever saw or expected to see.You will continue attentive to the priceless Holy Religion and ever bear in mind America is a very good place. The Kingdom of Heaven is infinitely better. I remain, My Dear Archie,Your affectionate cousin
John MacIsaac of Donald of Angus
Ardnamonie

19 comments:

aRae said...

Paul Rae said...
O Place
I have studied you O place,
I have squinted in your mist,
With your sun on my face,
Your softest gentle breath.
Your lips are like diamonds,
And clouds soft and wet,
You love me to love you,
I love you to care.
Your purple mist is passing by,
He has been many times before,
Defusing your light your rainy sky's,
You've the look of the land of lore.
A column of light strikes the sea,
Like a spear upon the sand,
And rich and warm, I’ll always feel,
In the cradle of your hand.

10 October 2008 16:02


Christy Hahn said...
Hi Amanda,

I love how you incorporated meaningful history into your artwork. Out of curiosity, did you paint the boat in the background? How did you render the image? The script looks great. Nice job!

Christina

11 October 2008 20:39


aRae said...
Hi Christy,
sorry i forgot i think we were ment to say how we created the image..here goes..
i printed off 4 coppies of the letter (found on the nett) 3 printed on white paper with black text,1 with brown background and white text(top copy), layed one on top of each other, cut a stencil of a boat, placed over all copies and cut the shape partially, peeled back a few of the cutt to give depth , then took a photograpgh and on photoshop i played..first useing "invert" then tweeking "curves"..
when i was taught photoshop on the diploma yr in shetland, i was often told i used too many applications...i still find it hard to be selective..i feel like a child with a new toy !!

12 October 2008 02:34


maggieuibhist said...
Love the look of your piece, I’ve always thought of how many people went over never to be heard from again or just the odd letter that would have slowly stopped as subsequent generations came and went. I know my mother’s uncle went over to America after a disagreement never to be heard off again his father went over to look for him with no luck, how many relatives are over there that I know nothing of.

12 October 2008 10:05

aRae said...

hi, sorry but had to recreate the post as it wouldnt allow followers..

Digital Dakini said...

Thank you for your breathtaking piece
-an excellent and important contribution, collaging the old with
the new, in a truly inspired way.

anne corrance monk said...

love the poignancy of this work
anne

norcrossl said...

Very personal and touching. I love the use of meaningful words when used appropriately in art works. Thank you for sharing this story. Well done:)

lebuck8 said...

Hi Amanda,
I loved your piece, it is so deep. I read your process for creating it as well - keep playing with the new toy, you have some amazing work.

gracki said...

Dear Amanda,
This is a really beautiful piece of artwork. There is definitely a personal touch that emulates from your piece. Thank you for sharing this!

Seaspaces said...

Ow. The combination of your image, that fragile little ship, and the letter... are very powerful. Painful, almost.

I thank you for your kind comments. I have, for some reason, been flagged by blogger as a suspect blog, and my account is frozen for the next twenty days. I've shifted to http://betweenscyllaandcharybidis.blogspot.com/ I hope I can keep from being too controversial there! Please come visit.

Art Ed Guy said...

What I enjoy and respond to the most in this particular pieces is the combination of the old with the new - a contemporary image combined with historical text. And that fact that it is from an actual letter makes for a powerful statement and a strong personal connection to the place that you live. It has a sense of sincerity and authenticity and a feeling of living history. Nicely done.

Sam said...

I like the script and the image together. It makes me think of writing a letter and imagining the stories you are writing about.

Digital Dakini said...

Isn't your powerful piece again a Letter to America? This time it's in an electronic format, within our project of Blog image postcards and Blog comment notes - contemporary forms of communication across the Atlantic. What an incredible connection you have made to human lives past and present through your art work.

Christy Hahn said...

Hi Amanda,

Thanks for your comment on "Sanctuary". I'm glad you could appreciate the inclusion of my own picture in the piece. I labored over whether or not I should include it, since it was a bit vain of me, but, then again, I found that it worked once I incorporated it.

jmkilburn said...

I know what you mean about studying the history of your home to develop a new sensibility. I grew up in upstate New York, near the Adirondack Park, right where James Fenimore Cooper set the "Last of the Mohicans" novel. I think of that time as "old" or "long ago," yet from a Scottish perspective it's still practically "brand new!" Anyways, yeah, glimpses of the past can really put the present in context. Your piece here is very 'watery' without literally depicting water... the lines of the letter become atmospheric, the 'boat' and 'sail' shapes describe a boat without need for details of rigging and ropes.

Digital Dakini said...

Tim Rollins and KOS (Kids of Survival) paste Xeroxed pages from the Great Books down on huge stretched canvasses and on that, place personal hand painted images. I think you would enjoy his work. He works with at risk teens in the South Bronx, NYC

Bryan said...

Your piece strikes me as quite symbolic, almost to the point of monument. I like to think about other works as if they were my own and then think about what I would do next (or where I would like to go next). For me, I am extremely interested in the idea of 'monumen' (even if it's extremely personal/ intimate), so I might look to push the idea even further towards monument, but again, this is just my fantasy. At any rate, it's nice to see such deliberate work.

~ Bryan

jmkilburn said...

Thank you for the kind words on my WYWH entry, but it wasn't so much about perseverance as much as it was about not being able to leave. I came here to be with my girlfriend, whom I later married, so I'm kind of stuck until we can both go back home to Boston, MA.

Rita G said...

Thanks for your comment, sorry my response is so late. I definitely appreciate the lush landscape of Pennsylvania. The fruit actually came from a scrap of a magazine and I have no idea what the image is from, it looks like it maybe a citrus fruit which would come from a tropical climate. I could not resist it because of it's ripe beauty and patterns.

Rita G said...

I am really impressed with this piece and I don't think you used too many tools on photoshop! It is so interesting to have this historical background and the theme is captivating.

Jim said...

This is a wonderfully creative use of the letter Amanda, and as to the "uses too many tools in PS" bit, I think the results speak for themselves! Never be afraid to fully explore any tool or resource you have that will take you to the results you desire; I don't believe there is ever any "wrong" way when doing art, just the joy of exploration!
I'm also a sucker for unique historic documents (I am an historian), and love using them to create artworks. One of my favorites is posted here in my blog titled: Seven Quarts of Milk. It's derived from an actual bill that was sumitted to the Continental Congress for reimbursement for foods consumed by Geo. Washington and his army while they were camped at the historic site where I work during the Battle of Germantown campaign.