Mystery Photos

Thanks to my brother I have a digital archive of photos passed down from several family members. Many identify the people and places shown, but some are just plain mysteries. My cousins have tried and failed to name the people, an unfortunate byproduct of our departed older generation who didn’t write anything on the backs of those photos packed away in old stationery boxes.

I decided to create a multi-panel mixed media piece with some of the mystery photos, which I call the unknown family. Here are some of my candidates.

I’ve settled on three panels: children, women, and groups. I plan to construct each separately, sewing on paper copies of the photos, and then connecting them with some sort of old cloth/lace, etc., so they will hang together. So far I have old linens for a base and decorations. I’m trying out various backing materials for support, but don’t plan to use batting or quilt these.

For a dry run I made a piece that features ancestral houses and an old embroidery sampler.

Top center is relatives’ farmhouse in Telford, PA; top right is grandparent’s home in Germantown, PA; bottom right is grandfather’s family home in County Tyrone, northern Ireland; bottom left is grandmother’s family home in County Donegal, Ireland; and middle left is estate outside of Philadelphia, PA, where many of my grandmother’s family worked as servants. Oh, top left is a drawing of the John Brown house in Akron, OH. He is no relation whatsoever, but I wanted another color photo.

My test showed me the difficulties of using photos with different degrees of clarity and styles. I edited all but one to print in sepia, but still many details don’t show. I also used a lace doily of unknown origin and the decoration from a cotton lawn hanky that belonged to my mother. I added a few more embroidered flowers to try to blend the photos with the background. It’s backed with acrylic felt and a cotton print, both fused on.

I would love to see other pieces that attempt what I’m trying for, either ones you’re made or seen. Cautionary tales about what didn’t work are welcome as well.

I am linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under collage, Completed Projects, In Process, Project Ideas

8 responses to “Mystery Photos

  1. Pingback: Revisiting the Unknown Family | The Snarky Quilter

  2. The embroidery and lace are so appropriate for the older home photos. A really great idea. I’ve never tried anything like it, so have no ideas or cautions. 🙂

    • Think of it as sewn collage, without the pesky seams. I was happy to find the old textiles to add to the photos. I’ve moved a lot so I don’t have much of that sort of thing still with me.

  3. This is a wonderful beginning, I really like the addition of the embroidery. I zoomed in but would love to see close-up details. Would you mind telling the finished size of this piece? I’m wondering it you have seen some of Susan Lenz pieces using similar materials.

    • It is 14 inches wide and 11 inches high, the size of the base embroidery. I’ll send you detail shots once I take them. I’ve spent some time looking at Susan’s work for ideas. She drills small holes in many of her materials so she can sew them down, and in general is much more fearless than I am about material choices.

  4. These will be awesome! To me, they are in the same vein as your canal series.

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