I would love to imagine that somewhere in my history there are ancestors who have woven strings of creativity and sent them down the centuries, ready for me to catch a thread and make something new from it. Somewhere, at some time, there is an ancestor, crouched in the darkness, spinning stories by the light of a fire. Somewhere, at some time, an ancestor daubs slashes of ochre on the wall of a cave. The years pass and what began as a tiny thread becomes a tapestry of creative DNA, sending out roots to be grasped by other family members throughout history.
But if these ancestors existed, their lives and their creations have been lost in the passage of time. The lives of those of my ancestors that are recorded are largely those of manual work: many generations of labourers, coal miners, stokers and keelmen. It is difficult to imagine that creativity had any time or space in the arduous lives of these men. Yet there are some lives that suggest some space for creativity: the small group of shipwrights, weavers and shoe makers that must have used an element of artistry in their work. Perhaps this small group carried the thread that has found its way to me.
But what of the hidden creative lives of my ancestors? The women who are recorded overwhelmingly only as wives, daughters and spinsters? The records hold no hint of how they spent their time. While their lives would have been no less arduous than their sons and husbands, perhaps some found an outlet for creativity in the work that became identified as women’s work: the cooking, sewing, knitting and gardening that was essential to survival but allowed for an element of self-expression. Maybe it is from these women that the thread of my creativity comes.
I have often felt a little like the strange one my family. My ideas and my lifestyle have always seemed a little at odds with those of my relatives. So perhaps creativity isn’t genetic after all. Maybe I’m an oddity in my family line. Those family dynasties of artists and performers may have less to do with innate talent and more to do with opportunity and following the example of their elders. So my male ancestors became miners and labourers because their parents did and because this is what was practical in their environment. And my female ancestors became wives and mothers for the same reasons. Nevertheless, there are hints of the thread even here: the piano that always stood in my grandparents dining room; the notebook my mother filled with the story of her life; the small, ornate cabinet my father crafted at school.
I believe that everyone holds the seeds of creativity within them and this is expressed in myriad ways. Censuses and certificates will never show how my ancestors used it in their lives. It may have been in line or words or music. Or it may have been in the way they laid plaster on a wall, or found solutions to more practical problems. I will never know what they did or dreamed of in secret. Or what they could have done if they’d had the chance. But I will continue to spin the thread and hope that someone, at some time will catch it.