Black River Falls

written in 2003

Story Group: 

The Back Porch Garden
“Here I am in the sailor cap, age four, on the back porch of Evelyn Sinclair's house. It was on this trip to California that I first became aware of this line of ancestors. At the time it was a childhood vacation, but later I realized it was much more than that. Evelyn Graves-Sinclair was the youngest of four children of the Sinclair family from Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Evelyn had two older brothers, Hugh and Lyman, but it was her sister, Leona, that would affect me later as a person and as an artist.”
The Flower Picker
“Evelyn as a baby, holding a flower, with her sister Leona behind their house in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Ninety-one years later, Evelyn showing me, age eight, her flowers on her back porch.”
“We visited Evelyn twice at her old Spanish adobe home in California before she passed away at the age of 96. Over the years, my mother developed a correspondence with Evelyn. It didn’t mean much to me until years later when fate stepped in”
“Evelyn’s attic was filled with treasures. She had her grandfather’s trunk which he took over the ocean from Scotland in 1840. That attic had everything from seventy year old “Jell-O” boxes to a sealed jar of rationed sugar from World War II. But also stored in the attic were the photos that would inspire me and become the basis of my artwork today.”
“During our visits, Evelyn showed us her large collection of family photographs and told us the stories that went along with them. She had a photographic memory and told the stories like they were yesterday. As a little boy, I was very drawn into her stories. Before she passed away, Evelyn left my family all her pictures and many letters. These images, and the stories behind them, mesmerized me throughout my life. So much so that they inspired me to paint. Although it didn’t exactly happen “just like that.”
“On October 30th, 2001, I took a nap in the evening and had a vivid dream. In the dream, Evelyn’s sister, Leona, was on the bank of a river, the water moving to my left. Leona appeared as a young lady, wearing a blue & white checkered dress. She didn’t speak a word to me- but she seemed very insistent the way she turned and pointed down the river. I woke up with the feeling that - “I need to go to Black River Falls.”
“The dream consumed my thoughts, though I didn’t go to Black River Falls. Not then. But I did create art. Three days after the dream I sat down with a photograph of Leona and made the first of my mixed media works on paper.”
“The eeriest part came weeks later in December. I had told my mother about the dream of Leona by the river, so she found her obituary and showed it to me. I read that Leona passed away at the age of 17 on October 30th, 1910. The date clicked in my mind and I rushed to my journal to see if what I felt was true. It was. My dream happened on the same day, October 30th, 91 years after Leona died.”
“After discovering the dream’s coincidence, I discovered Leona was herself an artist. Previously mixed in a pile of unsorted letters, I found this drawing Leona made on the front of a postcard when she was 15-16 years old.”
Visiting Family
“During the Summer of 2002, I finally made it up to Black River Falls, Wisconsin. I visited Leona’s grave where she was buried alone. Her family moved out of town after her death. I was happy- it was very important I got to visit her.”
The Sinclair House
“I also visited the house Leona and her family lived in. The current owners were very pleasant and allowed me to take pictures of the house. The owners rediscovered the gable of the house during restoration work the week before I arrived. The sunrise pattern upon the gable was how I identified the house.”