Life in detail

Art Gallery show shares Caughlan's journey to discover family roots

Bill Caughlan includes letters written to the artist by his parents as well as pen and ink reproductions of pictures of them in his show at the Quesnel Art Gallery.

Bill Caughlan includes letters written to the artist by his parents as well as pen and ink reproductions of pictures of them in his show at the Quesnel Art Gallery.

Discovering the stories and roots of his family proved to be a journey for artist Bill Caughlan.

The October show in the Quesnel Art Gallery at the Arts and Recreation Centre chronicles that journey through written word, images and illustrations which Caughlan hopes will spark a similar journey in those who view his interpretation of his family history.

“There’s stories and interesting subplots in any journey,” he said.

“I hope the public will get more of themselves than me out of this show, a desire to find out more about their own family.”

Caughlan says to properly understand and appreciate the work on the gallery walls, viewers need to take the time, as much as an hour, to read the placards which accompany the artwork.

“Exploring the Inside Passage is ostensibly about my journey and my relatives, but it hopefully will touch, in some ways, on all families, for the themes are similar – the immigrant experience, poverty, struggle, loves and losses, adventures and misdemeanors.

“The tapestry of all our lives.”

In the first placard, Caughlan explains the reason for his intense interest in his own family history.

“I grew up with a confused sense of family,” he writes about why he embarked on the journey.

“My mom, the oldest of 15, was forever on about her Irish ancestry, but it was often expressed in enigmatic statements, unexplained mystery and poetic license. My dad, the youngest of four, never exaggerated or embellished much but rarely divulged much.

“I wanted detail. I wanted to cut through the secrets and uncover, if not the truth, at least a close facsimile to it.”

Caughlan began his historical journey three years ago and has written two books about his findings.

“I have, in the past three years, read tons of microfilm, documents, wills, letters, journals and statistics and have hired professional researchers to dig where I couldn’t on two continents,” he writes.

“It has all been worthwhile and if nothing else, I’m a little less ignorant of events and some of the factors which govern our lives.”

His artwork, in many instances, began with original photographs which Caughlan reproduced, coloured and improved. He also reproduced photographic presentation styles and includes an original machine used to view stereoscopic images which was passed down from a relative.

All manner of media were used to enhance the show including Caughlan’s unique pen and ink style.

The details are definitely there.

His written work includes stories such as the relative who was murdered and  pieces of  his murky Irish history.

Although some of the stories conjure images of sadness and tragedy, there are also many instances of  humour and lightheartedness.

Caughlan is unapologetic about the intensely personal nature of the show and admits it may not appeal to all viewers but he reminds the public that any visual image is not about the object, it’s about what’s inside the viewer and their response to what they see.

“This is a contemplative, serious presentation,” he said.

“It’s important to take the time to read the accompanying text for the show’s true meaning to evoke the kind of response I’m hoping for.”

As with the story of Caughlan’s life, so goes the story of many other people’s lives, but it takes a seriously inquisitive mind and a desire for detail that drives the journey which uncovers the amazing facets of a family.

This artist is proud to present his findings and the journey he took to unearth them.

The show is presented for the month of October with gallery hours, Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.