Monday, February 9, 2009

Gathering Branches

I've become obsessed with branches.  It started harmlessly enough in a couple of small mixed media pieces I did using old family photos adding sticks and wire as a means of hanging them.  The next thing I knew I was doing another and another, each one larger and more complex (and using more branches).  Maybe I should say it's an obsession with wood, because I've added in driftwood and bamboo and big old sheets of plywood.  I even took apart an old shelf unit and nailed it to this one.  And don't get me started about how much I love the bark of trees.  (Don't worry -- I don't strip the bark from the tree.  I only pick up dead wood!) 

I'm sure this will run its course, but in the meantime, I'm working on a series of Family Tree collages, searching as always for the stories hidden in familiar photos and behind the surface in other people's family pictures. 

This one is titled:  What She Said, What She Did
It's 2ftX3ft (plywood, canvas board, repurposed shelving, branches, wire, beads, vintage hardware, vintage lace, ribbons, digitally altered vintage photos,  acrylic paint, handmade and decorative papers). 

Family stories are what I write about, too.  And they're what I gravitate to in the books I read, whether poetry, fiction, or memoir.  Nothing fascinates me as much as the complexity of family relationships and the stories that are either passed from generation to generation or are suppressed until someone with a lot of curiosity (sometimes called being really nosey) comes along to dig them out or make them up as she goes along. 

This piece, titled "Leaving Camp" uses some of my husband's family photos to explore the experience of the Japanese American internment camps in this country during WWII.  

I don't just gather tree branches. I also love to rescue vintage photos from yard sales and estate sales and thrift stores. At first, it broke my heart to think such a personal thing as a family photo album could end up on a sale table. But after I started working with them, I realized that each photograph of people I've never met has multiple stories to show and tell, a wealth of material I use over and over in my collages and assemblages as well as in my poems and stories.

I am always deeply grateful when people let me use their family photos in my artwork.  It feels risky, even dangerous at times, because unless I'm doing a commissioned work, I'm not really thinking about telling their story. But there are countless stories embedded in the richness of the old photographs, and I always hope to uncover some kind of emotional truth as I work and play with the images.


Sarah Laurenson said...

I love your art work. For me, it's leaves though I occassionally pick up a branch. I just love almost anything that has leaves on it, in it, etc.

And I love your journey when working with a new piece. Thanks for sharing these with us.

Fran said...


I'd like to feature you on my art blog tomorrow. It will be so inspirational to others. I've accrued a few of your pictures...okay, to do it?

Julie Williams said...

Hi Fran, Absolutely! I'd be honored to be featured. Thank you so much. If you'd like to use more of my artwork, I have some posted in my gallery at (my gallery name is: StoryStorage) or you can contact me via email. Thanks again! Julie

Linda Sheets said...

Julie, Great pieces. I know what you mean about the photo albums at sales. I like to think I am rescuing them to give them honor and new life when I buy and use them in artwork. I love the 'recycling' of the shelves etc in the first piece you list here. Good work!