06 September 2008

DNA...the family genes

Eric & I just returned from the moist flowery air of Honolulu, Hawaii where my father was born and raised. My grandparents were born there before Hawaii was officially a state. That makes me Yonsei (fourth) generation Japanese-American. My other half, from my mom's side, is 5/8 German & 1/8 French.

We stayed on the property my dad grew up on. My grandfather, Kennith Kameo Higashimachi had built a little studio on the lot of the main house, after his wife Hisa passed away in the 1960's. He lived into his 90's as a working artist, a prolific painter, world traveler and teacher.

My grandparents were born; him-1901, her-1902 and had an arranged marriage. Hisa was from Samari class and Kennith was from Farmer class. Not an ideal match for Hisa but she was the youngest of 11 children. By the time her parents got to arranging her marriage it was not such a big deal. She passed away before my parents were married so we never met her.

The little studio had not been cleaned out since Tu-tu, as we called him passed away 18 years ago. Eric & I had not intended to go to clean out the space, but upon waking up our first morning at 6am from jet lag...we looked at each other and said let's get this place in order! My mother and maybe father are thinking of retiring there, so this little project would be a great help. And besides there was something in me that needed to put new energy into this little place.

Although I knew my grandpa Tu-tu....when I saw him he was a man of few words. He'd often take me drawing but we would not talk much. He spoke English but felt more comfortable around Japanese. I think he was most comfortable when he had a pencil or brush in hand and didn't have to talk at all.

Cleaning out his stuff I learned more about him than I could have imagined; about his life and my DNA. As I looked through his dusty stuff, I thought about how much we had in common. We both appreciated art, travel, beautiful hand-writing, flower arranging, painting, and the process of documention. By the size of his body of work I know he had a serious dedication to his creativity and spent many hours a day in this process.

When I was a kid, upon returning from his travels from Las Vegas, he would stop and see us in Utah. A Keno man, he would hand my brother and I each a crisp new $100 bill. He was usually on his way out of the country. He'd say... "I'm going to travel to every country before I die."

In his studio there were many boxes of neatly tied bundles of sketches, documenting his travels, not to mention a lot of photos.

Just when I said to Eric, I don't think he made it to Africa, I opened a sketchbook and he was standing with the a pygmy tribe.

He was a prolific painter and studied at the Chicago Art Institute along with Georga O'Keffe. He had two very distinguishing styles, one traditional Sumi brush painting.

And the other, paintings of the Hawaii tropical flora and the sea.

Stacking his art and books into neat little piles, I saw a partial mirror to my own life. I saw similarities of what had been important to me and certain aesthetics I had naturally incorporated into my work. Organic forms, color, composition, mine were more abstract but we were both studying the subtle beauty and the balance in our art.

Does our DNA predetermine what we do and who we are? I wondered this while sorting through his stuff.

On the left is one of his flora paintings.

On the right is one of my painted enamel brooches.

And to my surprise he even dabbled in making some jewelery. Below are some Bakelite rings he carved. Notice the gold ring on the bottom left is a recent design of mine I currently have in my show case.

Each piece I found that mirrored me in some way was validating. I opened each box as if their might be gold inside. And to me there was.

In reflecting on my family DNA, I felt sad that I would not be able to hand this lineage down to baby o. Maybe that is why people have such an urge to have biological kids. So when they rummage through the family photos they too can find bits and pieces of them self. A line back in time that ties them to their families.

But then again, what if I would not have taken the trip to Hawaii to clean out Tutu's stuff, would it make any of my talents and interest any less important or true? Would I have even known how much we had in common. Is it chance anyway? And is the reason this was so important to me based on the memory of knowing him and having him in my life?

We will have to share with baby o the remarkable way one's genes come through no matter if you know your true biological family or not. We will share stories of where her talents might have come from. Think of all the great things I have inherited that I will never know the source.

In one of the boxes I found this amazing photo. I am assuming it is a family photo but of who? I will have to ask my dad to see if he knows.

Part of life is a mystery & no matter what we know, some of it is imagined or remembered through story and memories. And we all will have a story of how our lives have unfolded and who is our family. Biological or not.