In late August, we headed up to Chilton,Wisconsin to celebrate my grandmother Emma's family at the Big Schmahl family reunion. My grandmother was one of 10 children from German immigrants, Anna and Peter Schmahl. We gathered in the Eagles Club in their hometown with family I both recognized and family, to be honest, I didn't. On one side of the room, several tables were filled with picture, albums, certificates and the above painting. I knew exactly whose hand produced the work without even seeing the piece before—my father. The line strokes felt familiar and it drew me in as so many of my father's sketches over the years have. The picture is of my great Uncle Peter Jr.'s hotel that still stands in the downtown area of Chilton, now renovated to apartments. I loved that my dad contributed so many years ago to the legacy of his family in the best way he knew how, capturing it in art. He has so many memories going to the hotel when visiting his grandparents, aunts and uncles during the summer, and of the hotel being the hub of large family gatherings and a staple in the town. I loved that he and my mother have past this love of black ink and paper to me, and the desire still lives on in my hands to capture family moments.
I leafed through the pictures showing off the family my father knew and cared for, and I knew only through stories. I read through memories of my grandmother as a young girl growing up in the town, stories from her sisters and brothers and I saw the naturalization certificate my great grandfather was so proud of. He and Anna made a bold choice to move from the country they knew to raise a family in the United States at the turn of the century. My father told me it was one of my great grandfather's most cherished possessions, and now it is mine too.