Turning a battered old photo into a work of art
No matter how insurmountable the task is, I hate to turn away a person who needs my help in capturing their family home . . . and all those treasured memories. Their goal is to memorialize the house the way it looked when they, their siblings, or parents, as the case may be, grew up there. As a house portrait will be in the family for generations to come, it’s important to me to honor the true spirit of that special home.
The circumstances are always different, but in many cases the home has now been sold to new owners and no longer looks anything like it did in the past. Or worse still, the family home, with all those happy family memories hidden within it walls, has been torn down with no trace of what was there. Often the only existing photos are faded and weathered. More often than not, foliage, cars, construction or other “obstacles” cover the architectural details of the home. These make for challenging reference photos for a house portrait artist.
This is where I put on my detective hat, and with the help of my clients, I start digging around for lost clues and other photos that can be pieced together. I also ask plenty of questions.
Here is one of my favorite “challenging” portraits. I was commissioned to create a painting of this delightful country scene in Askov, Minnesota, by two young sisters, Jessica and Kathryn. Their great grandparents were Danish immigrants who arrived in the USA to start a new life in a brand new country. Jessica and Kathryn asked me to create a painting of the old family farm for their mother. Here is the vintage photo they shared with me… and my painting below. (Also, below these images is a little bit more info about the history of this family, thanks to my clients.)
“The farm was in Minnesota in a town call Askov. Our great grandparents were Danish immigrants and Askov was a popular Danish settlement. My grandpa, Harald Frederiksen, had 6 siblings and everyone worked the farm. My mom has been there and her main comment is curiosity about how her grandma, Momo, and aunt, Margret, could possibly have cooked for everyone in their tiny kitchen. I believe it was primarily a crop farm, but they also had dairy.
“My grandpa moved to California in the 70’s. He was a water engineer who worked for the World Bank and developed aqueduct systems in many developing countries. He and my grandma traveled a ton when we were kids and their house in Eugene, OR was covered with art and artifacts from their travels. Sadly, grandpa passed away from Alzheimer’s a few years years ago. My grandma (my moms stepmom) has since moved back to England where she is from. My mom was very close to her dad later in life.
“And I found your work through internet searches. I had this idea for a gift for our mom, but everything on Etsy/my early searches returned artists who did digital watercolors. I wanted the real thing and feel that, of the few artists I found that did that, you seemed to best capture houses, including historical houses, in your work. Our mom used to paint with watercolor so I feel that she will appreciate your work that much more.”
House portrait story of a Michigan family legacy
This story is a little closer to home.
In 1911, my husband’s great grandfather, Harry Days, built a home on 80 acres of farmland in northern Michigan for him and his new wife, Matilda. Harry was a farmer, lumberjack and school superintendent. He also devised a way to bring water from a creek half a mile from the home using a ram-jet pump. The family lived almost solely off the land, growing corn and wheat and raising cattle, pigs and chickens. My husband has fond childhood memories of the farm and waking up to Great-Grandma’s pancakes.
The farmhouse was passed on through the generations. However, a hundred years later, age had taken its toll. My sister-in-law and her husband took on the task to renovate the farmhouse so it would once more be a place where family could gather and stay. Little by little, over weekends, they replaced old plumbing and added insulation and new decks. They also replaced the siding, retiled the roof and added a new chimney and wood burning stove. Once fully completed, the icing on the cake was a family celebration to officially christen the newly restored family home.
More family house portraits from photos
Here are a few others examples of childhood homes around the country that I have had the honor of creating for wonderful clients. I want to take the opportunity to thank them for helping to provide photos and other important “insider information” that allowed me to create these childhood home portraits.
Being that Christmas is coming up soon, it may inspire you to have me create a special work of art depicting your family home or a home that you know will make a perfect, one of a kind portrait for a friend or loved one.
To reach out to me about commissioning a house portrait, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ciao for now,