Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Story Line" community art, history project exhibited in conjunction with "Rockland" opera

By Michele Bourdieu

Artist Mary Wright displays her "Story Line" project in local venues. Here she has hung some of the cloth panels with stories about ancestors on the terrace near the Fifth and Elm Coffee House in Houghton. She invites everyone to participate in the project by writing a story about an ancestor who faced adversity. The community art project is being exhibited in conjunction with the Pine Mountain Music Festival's opera Rockland. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- If you've noticed -- hanging on clotheslines at various public locations around town -- white fabric panels, each imprinted with a story and photograph representing a family's history, then you've been introduced to "The Story Line" project, coordinated by artist Mary Wright.

This display of thousands of family stories will coincide with Pine Mountain Music Festival’s New World premiere of Rockland, an original opera by Finnish composer Jukka Linkola, on July 15 and 17, 2011, at the Rozsa Center in Houghton. Based on real events that occurred during a miners’ strike in 1906 at the Old Victoria Mine, the opera celebrates the universal human struggle to overcome adversity.

Mary Wright poses with a collection of "Story Line" panels at the June 11 Art and Music Festival in Houghton. This week the panels will be hung at the Rozsa Center in preparation for the opera Rockland, which will have its New World premiere on July 15 and 17 at the Rozsa.

"What makes 'The Story Line' project such a good promotional boost for the opera Rockland is the fact that it has so much value in itself, even apart from the opera," says Peter Van Pelt, Pine Mountain Music Festival executive director. "It is encouraging so many people to research their family history -- and it is encouraging respect for history, just as the opera is doing. U.P. history, at both the macro and micro levels, is such a rich lode, and it is good to see it being mined like this."

During a recent presentation of her "Story Line" project at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton, Wright told visitors how, during the 1906 Copper Boom at Rockland, "miners were working excessive hours in unsafe conditions for wages too low."

The miners -- mostly Finnish -- decided to strike and two of them were killed. The story, found in a journal written by an eye witness and recovered in 1996, inspired Jukka Linkola to write this opera, which will also be performed in Finland this summer.

"You don't have to be Finnish to be involved in this project," Wright said. "You don't have to be involved in mining. You don't have to be from here. Anybody can be part of this."

Mary Wright tells visitors to her Portage Library presentation about "The Story Line" project and how they can write a story about one of their ancestors for the project. (Video clip by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

Wright said she has been working in 21 schools in seven different Upper Peninsula counties to collect stories for this project. She collected as many as 1500 stories at just one school, and she still wants more.

"We all have stories, and I want them all -- to be part of this great work of regional, cultural history and art," Wright noted. "Without those people behind us we would simply not be here."

Mary Wright tells the story of Croatian immigrant Anna Podnar, written by Podnar's granddaughter, Kendra Turpeinen of Chassell. Click here to read the story on "The Story Line" Web site. (Photo by Allan Baker for Keweenaw Now)

This is a perfect time to honor your ancestors and to give your family a voice in "The Story Line,” one of the largest creative and historical public exhibitions ever to take place in Michigan.

Just write a short (200-400 word) story in the first person -- from the point of view of an ancestor of yours who overcame adversity. Select a photo of your ancestor. If a photo is not available you can add a photo of an object related to his or her life -- even a recipe or a tombstone. Materials are free, provided in part by a grant from the Michigan Council for the Humanities. Your story and photo will be photo-transferred onto a piece of white cloth and displayed on the Michigan Tech campus on laundry lines representing the common threads that connect all people -- including diverse ethnic groups and generations.

The story panels will be displayed inside and outside the Rozsa Center beginning this week.

Please send your stories to thestorylineproject@gmail.com or contact Mary Wright, Event Coordinator, by phone at 906-361-554 to learn more about how you can participate.

See examples on the website, www.thestorylineproject.com.

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