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It is funny how life comes full circle

May 29, 2010

by Linda Lee Nicholas

My mother was one of twelve children. She was born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, a small coal-mining town with a population of 98% of Italian descent, most of whom made their own sopressata. I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 10 miles south, to first generation Italian-Americans: living in a household with my mother, father and paternal grandparents until I was 7 years old. Spending my childhood with my Italian grandparents had a strong influence on me. Being Italian, we spent a lot of time at the table. Memories from my childhood of sitting at the outdoor table (right outside the kitchen) under my grandfather’s grapevine arbor directly feed my work. My grandfather’s grape arbor is no longer but my father took a piece of this vine and planted it in the back yard of the house where my mother is still living. The grapevine is of one of my father’s legacies to me. The grape vine is a significant symbol for me and is a major inspiration regarding process, and composition.

My father died 2 years ago. He always planted a garden. When he was ill, I started planting the garden for him because he could no longer do it. Going through the illness and then the process of the death of a parent had a profound effect on my work. Memories of my father’s love of planting and watching him growing his adored fruit and vegetables intermingle with his illness and transform into my present painting.

My mother’s mother and father came from Calabria and my father’s mother and father came from Sicily. Although I was closer to my father’s parents during childhood, I am much closer to my mother’s family in Calabria and have been for many years. My relationship to Southern Italy is one of love and passion. I love the people, the land, the language and the food. I spent a few years in Italy, living in Milano. It enabled me to meet and spend time with my Italian family living in Carlopoli and Catanzaro. It also allowed me to experience the culture and interact with the people. I have fond memories of the entire family sitting around the table eating the most delicious food, much of it grown within a mile from the home. On a special family holiday: immediately, upon finishing dinner, we all had to get up from the table, get into cars and drive to Lago Ampolino to have a passeggiata. On an ordinary day after dinner, we had a local passeggiata. Another strong memory from time spent in Carlopoli was the harvesting and collection of the chestnuts during the fall. Nature and food were important to all of us, then. And now, within the context of my work, nature is still important to me.

I realize how important a painting residency in Calabria would be for me, not only in relationship to my work, but also regarding my identity. This residency would be like a “coming home” for me. The experiences I have had in Calabria replays in my head over and over and that imagery connects into my painting: planting,the pod, harvesting, the fruit of the labor: vegtables, fruit and olive trees, vineyards, village life and its rituals, eating the food that was produced from the earth. The experiences that I have had with my Italian family: hunting for mushrooms during the month of September, remembering the excitement when another was found on our family’s property up on the mountain, bringing them home to make the most delicious pasta. Later in the fall, going back to the family’s land higher up on the mountain to pick and gather the chestnuts, bagging them and bringing them to be weighed to sell. The “homestead” is still there and this legacy from my Calabrian family of connecting the family and the village life in that every member of the family, young and old, would make this magical trip, partaking in our community of togetherness bonding over the land. The value of what was created from the land is something we all still cherish. This seasonal harvesting of food, which connects not only the family to the land on a cultural level, but also connects to the rituals of village life. This merging reflects back to my father, which connects back to my grandparents: the importance of rituals concerning the land which produces our food that we put into our bodies to nourish us. My work is influenced by this double legacy of my Italian-ness. The legacy of my American mother and father and the legacy of my Calabrian family, which overlapped in so many ways: planting, harvesting, and the grapevine with a residue of the past, which has now formed my work.

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