Any study of history requires imagination—to project back into another place at another time. As an illustration, I make imagination tangible, especially to capture aspects to time in new ways. Houses provide a self-portrait of their residents. Drawings of historic buildings can portray them more accurately than photographs. By researching the history and origin of the homes, the story of the culture emerges. By symbolically representing them, the illustrations are accurate, scaleable, and enhance both family backgrounds and setting changes.
Recent projects include:
Allendorf Access— An exploration of family origins lead to 1500 Allendorf/Lahn-Giessen, Germany. Through a friendship, an amazing discovery, and a place that integrates natural beauty, history, and contemporary living, there is much to inspire. They are proud of many houses that were build in the late 1600s and early 1700s. A series of illustrations captures some of these historical gems and the impact of time.
“Historic Hessen Houses”— Several of the Heritage Cultural homes display the fachwerk construction. From an American viewpoint, their wood patterns convey a warmth and charm. Distinctive consistency gives a harmony to the ancient streets, and the mix of new between the old still maintains style. It turns out that I am descended from three of the founding families, and discover much in common with cousin Tom Euler, mayor of Allendorf.
“Finding Foundations”— With Tom Euler’s help from across the Atlantic, I was able to draw the center of town and a row of buildings down one lane. The first is a historic building adapted, the second preserved, and the third repurposed several times. Many of the old buildings are plastered over, shutters removed, windows replaced, gates opened up for cars, skylights to transform second floors. Barns have been transformed into houses, and parking spaces have replaced courtyards.
“Ancestor Access: Allendorf on der Lahn” — A closeup of the old bakery, this illustration makes it look smaller than it is. Very deep long building, its side faces the signature tree where the two oldest roads cross. Tom had provided resource material which I quote in this portrayal. Although the town has grown, this remains the center and the soul of place. Because Tom has included these illustrations on their town website, it is as if a small piece of me has gone home.
Evanston Evolution— There is no place like home, so I have undertaken an analysis of visual local history. Always fascinated by vintage architecture, I live in a historic neighborhood that blends 1880s frame homes with room additions and exterior adaptations that give them contemporary significance. When I began the research, I didn’t yet know that I am related to many of the pioneering families that first farmed here in the 1840s. This series captures the personal and the regional.
“Drawing Backwards in Time” Although a building may have endured many changes since built, hints of its original form exists. Sometimes old photographs show how a house looked, but most often, there are no images. Illustration can fill the gap. I have always wondered what my house was like in 1888 when new. It certainly does not look the same now! With an enclosed front porch, room additions, siding, and decorative shutters, its character is totally transformed. So I went to City Hall, researched the permits and historic records, and concluded with this interpretation.
“Pioneering the Right Place at the Right Time” Captivated with visualizing the past begins with the town where I live. The first permanent structures here were part of an idyllic homestead built along a well-traveled ancient trail on the top of a wooded ridge. No photos exist of the 1845 Mulford cabin or Ten Mile House, but I have tried to represent the feeling of this pioneering location in my illustration. Authentic to all sources, hopefully this is an accurate expression.
When I was still walking under tables, a tiny little blond girl with big green eyes, I would pester my grandmother. Following her around, I wanted to hear all of her stories growing up as a girl in Chicago. She rode horses in Lincoln Park. She remembered when gas lights were replaced by electricity, when bathrooms moved indoors. She was a young mother when radio started connecting communities to the bigger world. She lost her first love in World War I, only to be rewarded by an arranged marriage. And, she was the daughter of parents born in Hesse.
Like many German immigrants, my great-grandparents were children when they immigrated, so that generation grew up here. Their parents, then in their 30’s, were the ones to have the most difficult adaptation. And, as a little girl, I wanted to hear all about this. My grandmother knew her grandparents, and I wanted to know about them—why they left Germany, what it was like there, and who did what, why, when, and where.
This fascination has stayed with me all my life. While my family members rolled their eyes, I was learning to read German. Only one person was as into family history as me: my sister Jill, and so we divide up the investigations. She pursues the American story, and I pursue the old world story—which turns out to include Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Pomerania.
My career as an illustrator takes me down a journey of creating images to represent clients. Ideally, creative people seek convergences—where their various interests can intersect.
This is why I love illustrating history. Stories are best told in images. I submit that by capturing a symbolic moment in time, I can represent volumes of content. The convergence for me is my fascination in the past with my joy of visualizing. This curiosity is brought to client genealogical projects that enhance their own legacies.
—always inspired, Liane
Liane Sebastian wears an artist’s hat, designer’s coat, and editor’s shoes.