A Painting as Portal to People and Places of the Past

This is not a post related to children’s literature, but I wanted to share it here since it is something I’ve been wanting to write since I went to France with my dad in April 2023. It begins:

Genealogy enthusiasts don’t have to explain to each other why we find poring over primary documents and family trees so compelling. We love getting lost in rabbit holes of research, and we rejoice in breaking through brick walls, wielding documentation like sledgehammers against uncertainty about our roots. Sharing our findings with others who don’t share our passion requires that we connect the dots between the names and dates and records we discover to present our ancestors in their full humanity, with storytelling and emotion fleshing out the bare bones of fact. Sometimes objects and heirlooms help in this process by tangibly bringing us closer to previous generations. My son and I snuggle under an afghan my grandmother made, and though he never met her, he can imagine her hands at work.

A print of a painting of a white horse that has been in my family for four generations inspires this piece of writing. It came to me from my father, Raymond Alfred Lambert, who grew up in a small farming village on the border of Vermont and Québec. He said it originally belonged to his grandfather, Alfred “Fred” Damian Lambert (1882–1963). Though I never knew this great-grandfather because he died before I was born, my dad has shared many stories about him over the years. Some were about his team of white Percheron workhorses named Dick and Dan. As a child I thought my great-grandpa Lambert had actually hired someone to paint this picture as a tribute to them. I later realized the implausibility of such an act—commissioning a portrait of a workhorse would have been quite an indulgence for a Vermont oat farmer!

Click on the above link to read the full piece, which ends up solving an art mystery and acting as a eulogy of sorts for a barn lost to fire.


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