I was raised in the Patapsco River Valley southwest of Baltimore, Maryland. The area has played many roles over its lifetime, but its roots lie in the manufacturing industry, which dates back to pre-Revolutionary War America. My family came to the valley generations ago to pursue work in the various milling operations that dotted the landscape. Orange Grove, Thistle, Grays, and Ellicotts make up a handful of the mills that should be considered the Industrial Revolution’s best kept secret. My ancestors left similar operations in Appalachian West Virginia, North Carolina, and all areas in between with the promise of good work and better living. My grandmother even remarked on an advertisement promising trees ripe with bananas.

      Entrenched in this working class culture I’ve found two important tenants. The first— an inexplicable relation to the environment. The Patapsco has long lived as both provider and destroyer. The same river that allowed for a way of life to grow has also chosen its own endings. From the catastrophic 1868 flood and the 1972 destruction of Daniels (where my maternal family lived and worked) during Tropical Storm Agnes, to the 2016 & 2018 flooding of Ellicott City, this way of life bends like the ever-changing river.

      The second tenant I noticed at a very young age was a prevalence of storytelling and folklore passed down from those before me. Walking on opposite sides of a pole splits two peoples’ souls, it's customary to pray over floodwaters, and proper etiquette in the presence of a ghost involves asking, ‘What in the name of God do you want?’ I accepted these varied beliefs as normalities of any family but came to realize with age were directly influenced by the Appalachian diaspora in which I was raised. “Folk culture embodies in its traditional chain of transmission the visions and values of the folk themselves…What remains, after forgetting everything that is not truly memorable, is something primal, something very close to the basic poetic impulse of the human species. People neither remember nor forget without reason.” (Joyner, Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture)

      Thus, in From Yonder Wooded Hill, I grapple with what we choose to remember versus what chooses to remember us. The result creates a visual narrative that juxtaposes my own heritage and that of my ancestors to show the interwoven continuum of a long-passed yet ever-present culture embedded in hills near and far to my upbringing. “Who can ever affirm, or deny that the houses which have sheltered us as children, or as adults, and our predecessors too, do not have embedded in their walls, one with the dust and cobwebs, one with the overlay of fresh wallpaper and paint, the imprint of what has been, the suffering, the joy? We are all ghosts of yesterday, and the phantom of tomorrow awaits us alike in shadow or light, dimly perceived at times, never entirely lost.” (Du Maurier, Myself When Young) It is this notion of ‘never entirely lost’ that drives the progression of history as a rippling entity, instead of a linear track, eager to bob to the surface whenever we choose to pay attention.

From Yonder Wooded Hill has been reviewed in The Washington Post among other outlets, and resides in the collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, VCU, UMBC, and Pratt Institute, among other institutions.

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