A sketch of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge done by my great-grandfather, Stephen Thomas Hennessy, some time in what I'm guess were the 1930s.

A view of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge under construction, from either 1935 or 1936, courtesy the San Francisco Museum.

My mom just made a pilgrimmage to the grandparent’s abode in the Sierra Nevadas, where she took a series of photos of her grandfather’s sketches from the Bay Area in the early twentieth century. I don’t know much about Stephen, but I have culled a few facts and/or amassed some anecdotes that may be historical conjecture:
— He was born in Cincinnatti, had moved to St. Louis by 1920, and ended up in California in the 1930s (according to U.S. Census records)
— My mother claims he drove a motorcycle built by a Native American across the country
— He painted alongside S.C. Yuan and spent much of his time mimicking landscapes in Carmel-by-Sea
— Walt Disney approached him to work with him as a studio artist, but Stephen refused
— He sketched maniacally, on any material available to him (which included brown paper bags, tissue paper, and cardboard inserts discarded by dry cleaners)

I’ve created a set of photos of his work on my Flickr account. It’s got landscapes, a few fabulous figure studies, and, of course, those select sketches of the Golden Gate going up. My aunt, an artist herself, is rumored to have squirrelled away about 20 more.

The San Francisco Museum, from which I brazenly stole the above image for comparison, has a great repository of images of the Golden Gate Bridge being built.

America Hurrah’s Bill Roddy also offers pictures he took while the bridge was going up, which he later published as a set of postcards. Another comprehensive set was posted by history_eyes_05 on WebShots; numerous books on the subject have also been published.

No, not a Star Trek allusion: the beginnings of an art project. Every generation of my maternal family has had its artist; my great-grandfather was asked by Walt Disney to be one of his original animators, my grandmother (in addition to raising four daughters) focused on oil paintings a

nd still teaches classes to girls in her mountain town (former students of hers are here and here!), and my aunt exhibits her watercolors extensively in San Francisco.

Among my cousins, I’m probably the most artistic, but I don’t have the zeal or dedication it takes to do it professionally. I hate waiting for paint to dry, my sense of proportion and dimension is bad, and I’m prone to destroying anything that doesn’t turn out exactly as I had planned. Still, I have ample art supplies and find that it soothes and distracts me when I get in one of my fussy moods, which is, oh, 90% of the time.

Anyhow, I’ve been brooding about all this since I last visited my grandmother, when she took me up to claim paintings of hers as my own — “The rest are going in a dumpster!” Horrified, I took as many as I could, stored them at my mother’s house, and forgot about most of them until this Christmas, when I decided to reclaim them and install them in our luscious Queens digs. We lugged them back and set them around the room, and it became clear to met hat they … don’t really fit with our decor. We have lots of old propaganda posters from the Soviet bloc (don’t ask), the husband’s photos of Buddhist India, and my own small collection of Indian street art. We needed something to tie all these together.

So I, in a fit of inspiration, decided that I would try and reinterpret her works. Here’s the first of my efforts; her original is a scene with my grandfather fishing in the Tuolumne River. My edition is done in conte crayon and Sharpies, and the limited color palette has lent the interpretation an air of Munch or Van Gogh. I don’t know how I feel about it; I’ve already tried to throw it away once, and was thwarted by the beloved; but I love the idea that I can take something of my grandmother’s, add a bit of myself to it, and come to a new vision of my family and the world.

(Apologies for the blurriness of these; I’ll try and replace them with clearer images, but I was excited to post them at all!)