Blackwell Studios
DIVINING EMILY
It started quite by accident, almost magically, back in September of 1996 when I discovered the name of my great grandmother, Emily Blackwell, who was very nearly forgotten forever. She resides in the back of my mind ever since. She seems to want things explained. It is a long, seemingly unending saga, piecing her past life together from the few bits found in the large Samsonite that came from my parents' basement. At one point in my research I realized that I did not yet have photos of Emily at my age which was fifty-something. I had childhood photos, which I never hoped to find; her young adulthood posing with her young family; and much later in life after Cuba. Of course, I wanted to see her in that period which was not represented. And so I set about to piece her together, intending to assemble a digital image in PhotoShop that I could later paint from. Life-size was the ideal but this daunted me once the moment arrived to stretch the canvas. And so I convinced myself that this digital composite was really more true and representative of what I was doing and so left it at that. I had this image of Madame X by Sargent taped to my computer for so long I didn't notice it any longer until this notion to build the composite of Emily in Cuba. I would take her lovely arms. Enrique had told me that Emily wore jodhpurs and a smock to ride her horses. Lord Ribblesdale by Sargent came to mind and so I took his jodhpurs and the bottom of his vest. I had the photo of Emily wearing a smock, or at least what I thought was a smock, but it only reached her mid-torso. I would extend the smock to reach Ribblesdale's vest bottom. His shiny riding boots were inappropriate for Emily's setting so I thought of my friend who raises horses. She would certainly have a well used pair and she was tiny like Emily...or at least tiny enough. And then I thought further and picked up the phone and asked her if she would pose with one of her horses. "Is one of your horses a thoroughbred? Pops said Emily always had thoroughbreds." She did not have a thorough-bred but knew someone who did and so the date was set for the photo shoot.
Over the years that followed I had killed off several computers and hence have lost that image but luckily I had done the work and still have the composite shown above. In the eventual painting I have it in mind to give her dark jodhpurs and a pale blue smock, but for now they remain as Lord Ribblesdale dictates. For now she stays as she is. In a letter Emily wrote to the founder of the McCord Museum in Montreal, kept in their files all these years, I found these two sentences and it was as if she had said it to me. I give grateful thanks that what we call chance has drawn me into your orbit. We are told that there is no such thing as chance -- it is but a law of nature misunderstood.
I placed them, in her handwriting, on the stage floor of the composite as a foundation of what was to come.

If you would like to learn more about this book in progress, click on the oval button adjacent and go to La Gloria City.

Emily with my grandfather Hubert circa 1877

Emily in 1919

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