I also had transcriptions of my grandfather’s letters and had seen his beautiful large-format family photographs. I found that he and I shared a penchant for imagining the lives of others, tagging his photographs with captions about his neighbors in his rural New York City neighborhood. I was inspired by the joy evident in these images. Really, though, it was the simple fact of his own life—here so vividly and then gone—another introvert who, I felt, would welcome my intrusion into his life and thoughts.
So, I began a novel about him. While reading through a series of letters he wrote from California in 1906 to family in Brooklyn, I found a reference to his friend Agnes Pelton and decided to bring her into the novel: another artist of fragile constitution, raised as he was in the very conservative Protestant sect called Plymouth Brethren.
But once I saw Pelton’s abstracts, the landscape of my imagination was flooded with color and upended by an urgent need to understand. Who are you, I asked Agnes. I began using my daily train commute to start scribbling. I recommend it: a pad of paper, a pen or pencil, and whatever pops into one’s mind. It was on one of those mornings, mulling over how she had come to make these astounding works, when a voice came to me and said, “I want! I want to make BIG pictures that COVER a BIG piece of paper!” All right, I thought, let me help you with that.
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|photo by Lynn Shepodd|
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