“Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”( –George Eliot, Middlemarch)
I grew up listening to my grandmother sing songs in her native Swedish (though she was born in the US, her parents were both immigrants from Sweden living in northern Minnesota and spoke exclusively Swedish at home; she eventually learned English once she began attending public school) and learning silly phrases with little practical use (the first thing I learned to say was “Mama, mama, kan jag ha en hårnål att plocka min näsa med?” - literally, “Mama, mama, may I have a bobby pin to pick my nose with?” - my grandmother had quite the sense of humor). My great-grandmother was a phenomenal Swedish musician, and passed that gift on to her children and childrens’ children. Swedish music was always something somewhere in the background of my life. When my grandmother died on September 29th, 2018, so passed the last native Swedish/Jämsk speaker and keeper of family Swedish songs in our US relations. Though I’ve spent years studying and singing music from many traditions, it had never occurred to me to learn the music of my grandmothers. It was something that felt like would always be there, until suddenly it wasn’t. Unvisited Tombs is a multi-faceted project that has been brewing for many years now.
Inspired by the quote from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Unvisited Tombs is both a public research blog and a creative multi-media project looking at women’s ancestral narratives. The blog will consist of articles, photos, videos, interviews, links to resources and further information, biographies on various female tradition keepers, collaborative articles and so on. It will serve as the public research branch of the overall project, bringing forth the voices of women from various traditions all over the world via their respective vocal and textile arts traditions. By no means exhaustive, my hope is to simply throw a light on a wide swath of women’s histories that sparks interest for further study, research, and exploration. The creative branch of the Unvisited Tombs Project will be my own personal, creative multi-media exploration, looking at the previously buried and forgotten histories of the women in my own family from northern Sweden/Norway and Ireland. Through a combination of traditional and composed music, video, needlework, and photography, I will create a series of on-going pieces that focus on the various subjects related to these matrilineal narratives and histories.