I had been puzzling over how I could create a bridge between now and the time we go to Cushendall, Northern Ireland. It seemed important for me to take on a project that would take me step-by-step to our family artist residency in the Cushendall Tower in September of 2011.
I decided to create a simple book with materials at hand that would contain a weekly page consisting of a drawing and related words. Each week I would post the page on the internet in some way. I purchased a website so I could scan the weekly pages and put them into a blog that could be accessed by people I thought might be interested. Then I opened the blog to the public, hoping that, once linked to the Cushendall Tower website, people in Cushendall might find it and get a sense of who will be living in the tower in September.
I had no idea what I would draw or write, other than that the drawings should be of the “real world” that I live in. Then it dawned on me that the theme to inform the process should be “Things Are Alive.” When I draw or photograph objects I do feel that they are alive.
I have been discovering a lot as I go. Much of it relates to how the act of drawing affects my perspective on things, what I would call my “inner state.” I have been finding that just by doing this assignment, I am becoming more present in the moment, more alive, and more aware of my own heart.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this residency. I feel inadequate in expressing my appreciation that the residency is in Cushendall, close to the place my great grandparents were born.
Little did I know in June 2009, when we found ourselves in Cushendall on our first trip to Ireland, that we would be returning to stay in that rather unusual stone tower. Northern Ireland feels like home to me, and I’m glad to be returning!
This book is dedicated to my grandfather John Paul McDowell. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland on March 15, 1884 (died August 1940 in St. Louis, MO) to David McDowell (born July 22, 1842 in Northern Ireland, died 1923 in St. Louis, MO) and Ellen Connelly McDowell (born November 15, 1854 in Northern Ireland, died July 23, 1922 in St. Louis, MO).
After marrying, David and Ellen emigrated to Glasgow, Scotland in order to find skilled work in the shipyards. Not long after John Paul was born, they again emigrated–with other family members– to the U.S. from Glasgow. The purpose was to work for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. John Paul was a young child when they made the crossing, after which they traveled directly overland to De Soto, Missouri. DeSoto, Missouri was a major hub for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. John Paul grew up in DeSoto and apprenticed as a boiler maker for the railroad, which became his work. My dad Robert Ray McDowell (born May 3, 1925 in Patterson, MO, died March 5, 2003 in Jamestown, TN) was one of 8 children born to John Paul and my grandmother Augusta Mae Bennett (born April 22, 1900 in Silva, Wayne Co, MO, died November 1, 1984 in Oregon).
It is my belief that, although John Paul took up the task that was his lot and supported his family as best he could during the Depression, he was at heart an artist/musician who never had the chance to bloom in that way. I have ascertained this from information some might consider a bit unreliable. Nevertheless, I feel there is some verity to it. There are artists and musicians who are amongst John Paul’s descendants. I feel that through the Cushendall residency we are able to circle back to the true roots of this family and pay our respects to those who have paved the way for who we are.
DE SOTO DRAWING (August 6, 2009)
In August 2009, my sister Chrissy and I flew to Missouri for Aunt Ann McDowell Neier’s 90th birthday surprise party. Before the party we rented a car and traveled south from St. Louis to De Soto (Jefferson County), where our great grandparents David McDowell and Ellen Connelly are buried. We visited the family grave site on the hill (previously discovered by our Uncle Keith and cousin Patrick) on a hot, sunny afternoon, after having spent the night at the Arlington Inn. The inn was built in 1860 right next to the railroad tracks, and was thus a building that would have been part of John Paul’s childhood landscape. The drawing was done looking across the train yard at a building at the bottom of the hill where David and Ellen are buried. I wrote in my journal: “The screech of metal is music in the night, against the hill on the top of which rest the remains of my great grandparents.”
I also wrote: “So much reminds me of Ireland. The hill at the top of which is the cemetery. The inn, which is like Ireland inside. The people, who are as sweet as the Irish. My falling in the graveyard like I did at the cemetery on the Hill of Tara.”
This is the truth– at the exact moment we crossed the border into Jefferson County, Chrissy and I both smelled peat burning. Having just returned from Ireland, I knew the smell, and somehow Chrissy did, too. To me this meant that our ancestors were voicing their approval that we had come.