It started as a pen and ink drawing about all the people that preceded us, long lost relatives, family members who sailed to the ends of the Earth and the thousands of others, all now all but lost, save for the trail of DNA....
The face is an idealised version of 'John', (Yiannis) a long-lost relative who immigrated to Siskiyou County in Northern California in the early 1800's, from Greece. His name is now lost to us, as are many details of his life. What remains, however, is the story of a young man leaving war-torn Greece, to search for gold in what was the 'Wild West'. The following is from my research with the Siskiyou Genealogical Society:
"The community of Happy Camp never had a newspaper, the closest regular newspaper was published in Yreka, the County Seat, a long distance to travel. In 1902 the community was more Wild West, then other communities in the County. Happy Camp was a Mining town, the population fluctuated from under 100 in the wintertime to several thousand residences in the summer months. Mining was very difficult in the winter months due to the river level rising and flooding the Mining camps and snow made it tough to travel and obtain supplies. There was also very little law enforcement in Siskiyou County at the time, there was one Sheriff and 3 or 4 Deputy Sheriff's to cover the whole County which has land mass 6,300 square miles, it is the largest County in the State of California." John married a local Karuk woman and raised a large family.
Whilst I was researching John E. I had in mind a poem by a talented friend Michele Benn entitled 'Uprooted from Sefarad'. The padlock on the forehead, initially a statement about lost information and evidence locked away in ways that cannot be unravelled any longer, refers to this interminable search for information, lives and struggles unrecorded, histories discarded for a new life...languages half-forgotten; it also reminded me of the tefillin (boxes containing sacred prayer scrolls) worn by Orthodox Jewish men. The tension between the new lives sought by many of my ancestors (escaping from war, persecution, failed political systems and poverty) and their traditions read like a ledger of losses and gains.
There are many other references within the face and symbols which allude to the lives of these men, and women, including my own parents, some still locked away somewhere, waiting to be discovered.