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  • Writer's picturecheryl mendenhall

Painting Yeva

I first heard about the One House Project from a Blackrock Center for the Arts email last fall. The Art Watch website described the collaboration as a powerful visual statement of the strength of diversity and the common elements of our shared humanity. A timely theme, and in our neck of the woods. I mentioned to my DC illustrator friend that I was considering taking part. So, I learned, was she.

“OK,” I said. “Now I definitely need to follow through on this.”

Since my 2017 mailer The Hat was inspired by my father’s grandmother, I decided my One House panel would commemorate one of my maternal ancestors, the gutsy and resilient Yeva Cyktich.

References included this family portrait (taken fifteen years after Yeva’s 1905 arrival in the U.S.), an idealized western Pennsylvania postcard, and my grandfather’s grittier image of nearby Viola Mine. I was also indebted to the Ellis Island photos of social reformer Lewis Hine, which confirmed stories I heard as a child.

I tinkered with composition in Photoshop, cutting the steamship, cows, and mine scaffolding to focus on Yeva herself. The palette was inspired by Picasso’s Rose period (1904-1906) and eastern orthodox icons.

Time to get messy with acrylics.

Writing and illustration can be very solitary endeavors, so volunteering at the installation and deconstruction was a blast.

Plus my home base made for easy glue gun and screwdriver bit runs.

Here's Yeva in the second row, alongside other immigrants from the late 19th and early 20th century.

The House plywood will be repurposed for the 2019 Wheaton Arts Parade floats (another worthy community endeavor). Yeva's story and many others are archived online. Check them out!

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