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Saturday, April 17, 2010

IMMIGRANT FOLK PAINTING

When A. deDoes passed through Ellis Island in the early 1900s his stock in trade was his blacksmithing skills. He was immigrating from Holland to the U.S. -- a young married man with wife and young daughter. As a family they knew precious little English. But he was of a tough mind and knew what he wanted in this new country. He took his family and trade to St Louis, Missouri and built a blacksmith shop on a piece of land where he called himself a horseshoer and wagonmaker.
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Where the family lived in St Louis is not known but records show that the wife, a daughter and a new born American son returned to Holland for a few years. No one knows why. Perhaps for economic reasons? This is a presumption, as much of social history seems to be when there is little written documentation. Family stories do survive but those can become inflated as they are passed from generation to generation. But basically, I believe there is always a nugget of truth to passed-down family stories.
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When I met A. deDoes, I was eighteen years old. Fifty-one years ago. He was then retired from an automotive job in Michigan. He had been painting oils for a number of years -- painting the stories of his past. He was kindly toward me and showed me all his paintings. All naive -- folk in nature. At that time he still carried his Dutch heritage represented by a heavy accent.

Now a member of his family has the above large three feet by four feet painting hanging in their family room. Its frame is pine, two inches wide, and is the original handmade frame designed by A. (Anthoney) deDoes. Yet, little history is known about the man with the exception of the bits and pieces that I describe at the beginning of this post.

With the large painting above, A. deDoes painted the memory of the first place he moved to in the United States. He included himself working at the forge, his son on a donkey, and a helper shoeing a horse. Unfortunately, all the other paintings he artistically worked over in his latter years have disappeared. But, fortunately there is this monumental painting of an immigrant and his attempt to make it in his new country of America, no matter what it took.

Many social reflections can be considered with the painting. One is that it was a time of overlap between horse and wagon transportation and automotive vehicles. Two, is that it is a statement about the toughness needed to migrate to our country. And three, that complex personal memories remain in the psyche for years after they happen. Luckily for some, they lay it down for posterity through art such as this.

(Click on photo at top for enlargement of A.deDoes oil painting)

3 comments:

  1. What a beautiful artifact for the family to have. It's actually very skillfully worked. Blacksmithing is an occupation that lives on, but now the blacksmith goes to the horse, rather than the reverse. The very first blacksmith I met, about 1967, still hot-shoe-ed in his shop with a forge, an event that is now a part of history. That blacksmith was in his 80s and still shoeing horses, quite a character.

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  2. A wonderfully told story. I am interested in "outsider art" which I think this would be called. Probably other pieces are in attics or old houses and will wind up in yard sales now and then. I hope he got enjoyment from his painting. Thanks for saving his story this way.

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  3. Thank you both, barefootheart and June, for the informative comments about the immigrant folk art post. Interesting what barefootheart mentions about the art of horseshoeing today. And June, I am not too familiar with outsider art but like you mention -- it might be within the same genre of naive or folk art. -- barbara

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