WHEN I WAS YOUR AGE: Storytelling as Collaborative Knowledge Making

Storytelling is a fundamental source of knowledge and agency. To tell a story is to remember, contemplate, question, interpret, and ultimately voice a particular history. When I was Your Age is a collaborative project that uses storytelling to explore the relationship between artists and their elders. Participating artists asked their mother, grandmother, or like-figure to share a story from their past. Each pair constructed a piece of text reflecting the life of the elder when she was the age of the artist. Each artist created a visual response to complete the piece. The following pages present a dialogue between generations, where the residue of the past is deeply felt in the present and maintained by one’s willing imagination.

Sarah Smith, At Least I Haven't Married Yet, Pigment Inkjet Print

When I was 25, I met my first husband.

We met in Chicago.  He was a friend of my employer and we were at an electronics show.  I remember every night we would go over to the Ambassador East to sit and drink at the bar. That was the first time I had Perrier.  Such a simple thing but I remember it well.  Every night was a new place to eat and another little bar afterwards.  We sat one night in a small but quaint little place called “a con a note”.  It was a small piano bar and the music was wonderful.  I love to hear someone play live piano.  Afterwards we would walk by the water and then back to the hotel. I loved Chicago and wanted to stay forever.  We walked and talked constantly. During the trip I saw my first canary diamond. It was beautiful. I fell in love with the city and the man.              

We had a small quiet wedding in our home and both immediate families joined us to celebrate.  A simple white dress with small flowers and we were married.  The glass broke and the Rabbi said mazel tov.  I was a Mrs. at the age of 26.

I had a ready-made family, 1 boy and 1 girl. They lived with their mother on Long Island and on the weekends I would pick them up and bring them to our home.  We would go swimming and every morning feed the birds and squirrels from our patio.  Our neighbors had children their age and so they were never bored.  We cooked dinner together and watched television at night.  About a year went by and the children moved to California with their mother.  They left abruptly, leaving no notice to where they were going.  This caused a rift between Paul and I.  It took about four months before we had any contact with the children.  It was horrible.  When we finally spoke they wanted to come and visit.  At the time my husband was out of town and I started to make arrangements for their visit. I sent a limo to take them to the airport and scheduled for someone to make sure they got on the plane. During this, I wasn’t getting any cooperation from their mother.  The children came during the summer and we had a great time.  In the end his son wanted to stay with us, and his daughter wanted to go back to be with her mother.  We made the arrangements and enrolled his son in school near us. 

It was downhill from there on.  My husband talked about his ex-wife to his son and then promised him everything he wanted.  In the end it was the son or me and I knew that blood was thicker than water.  We divorced and I started my life over again.  I had a dream that I would marry for life.  It just didn’t happen.

--Kathi Smith

 1977 at the age of 25

Elizabeth Davenport, Racing Stripes, Mixed Media

When I was your age I had so much. That year you were four and beautiful. Soon we had your sister; your brother wasn't far behind. I was so proud of your mother. I had laid the beginnings of a career.  We had a humble little house with a white picket fence. A 1969 Chevy Camaro (Le Mans Blue with racing stripes) was the toy that we both shared. My head eternally under the hood, hands fidgeting with gaskets and belts.  Your stuffed bears perched along the dashboard as if in conversation with one another.  Your hair in two long braids tied together at the ends.  Your attentive brown eyes.

That picture still framed on my bedside table.

It is the wallpaper on my laptop screen. 

The background image on my phone.

--Paul Davenport Jr.1988 at the age of 28