Belle and Henry on the occasion of their late-life marriage.
Orlena photographed in middle age.

These are 2018 charcoal treatments in large format, of photos that I eventually inherited through my female line. Doing these was another way to exploring the life adventures of these two female ancestors of mine.

My maternal grandmother Belle is quite well known to me. Ours was a strong and loving relationship, even if carried on at a distance for much of the time.

My maternal great grandmother, Orlena is known to me, only by (1) photos left to me and (2) a few official records found through an active search about ten years ago. I feel deep admiration and respect for her strength in adversity. And the joy she must have had in her children. The records seem to show she bore 17. I don’t know for sure, since there were stepchildren she raised.

Orlena was a rural farmer, during the latter 19th Century and the early 20th. Not poor and not uneducated. In fact heir to sizeable, rich farmland in southeastern Indiana when her parents died. But an ordinary rural woman in that country at that time.

Through noticing Belle’s habits and instruction, I learned about what must have been Orlena’s unstopping efforts to feed her large family well, through planting and tending her kitchen garden and by autumn canning. And by foraging for greens in the early spring. In providing herbs and remedies for their minor illnesses. By sewing most daily clothing for herself and her children. I observed and absorbed much of this knowledge–second-hand–as it was repeated before me by Belle throughout her life.

Rich in land and resources, still, some rural farmers like Orlena were short in their access to cash, which was sometimes urgently needed. Cash was required to pay for a few essential services and goods. The chief sources of cash were coal-mining jobs in their area, and this became the occupation of all the healthy adult males in the family. But a dangerous and unhealthy job too.