Mel Watkin
Vanitas: O. Acanthium
2013
Ink, acrylic on collaged maps of Scotland and the United State
18 x 40 3/4 unframed
Collection of Ginny & Alby Van Alyea, Chicago

This piece was commissioned for the Hyde Park Art Center's Not Just Another Pretty Face exhibition. Basically I interviewed the Van Alyea’s about their family histories, their careers, major interests and life goals. Their extensive family backgrounds are complex, but geographically centered in Scotland and the Midwest United States. A few stories caught my attention including the great grandfather who built the Milwaukee Road rail line—the first to reach the Pacific coast from the Midwest. They had also just returned from a trip to Scotland – a chance to see the land of their ancestors, recall Ginny’s time there as a student and to have some time together before the birth of their first child. While there they learned the story of Scotland’s National symbol, Onopordum Acanthium–the thistle. (The sharp thorns of a thistle ended a Norse attach, saving the country from Viking invasion.) I also researched the 18th Century “Clearances,” during which more Scots were forced to flee than remained in country. (Many settled in our Midwest.) This lead me to visually connect the Scottish diaspora with the way a single thistle spreads 100s of thistledown seeds far and wide (like the dandelion). From Thistledown, I jumped to the color code used to represent our genetic code, which I integrated into the maps of Scotland and the Midwest.
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