Midweek Music Break: Lynn Tomlinson, “The Ballad of Holland Island House”

[Lyrics copyright © Lynn Tomlinson]

Says artist (and lyricist) Lynn Tomlinson at her site:

I came across the haunting image of a house standing alone in the water in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Reading more about this house, I was struck by its story, and its relevance today, when so many communities are facing challenges from sea-level rise. The images I chose and the visual style reflects the artwork of Winslow Homer, Van Gogh, and Kathe Kolwitz, artists working in the late 1800s, the time period when the house on Holland Island was abandoned.

This video’s construction involved much more than that brief paragraph suggests: each frame was hand-painted in clay — not oil, watercolor, gouache, or other traditional medium — on glass. I’ll give you a moment to think about that — especially about the relationship between art and artifice, between real and ideal, between temporary and permanent, natural and man-made, and then and now

On this page at a site called Sometimes Interesting, you can read many details about the island and its last house, with many photos (including what appear to be the last known photos before the house’s collapse beneath the waves). Wikipedia, of course, offers its own useful summary.

My favorite “fact”: Holland Island is not an island of rocky protrusions; it’s an island of clay and silt. Although Tomlinson does not (to my knowledge) say so explicitly, it’s hard not to draw a dotted line between that geology and the physical media at the heart of the visual one.

(Tomlinson’s film won 1st place in the Greenpeace USA “Postcards from Climate Change” Student Film Contest. And as you can see from the still frame of the Vimeo video about, it’s picked up a good number of other awards as well.)

Aside from the work of the animation itself, Lynn Tomlinson wrote the ballad’s lyrics. The music and the performance, though, are courtesy of a roots-music/Americana duo going by the name Anna & Elizabeth (surnames Roberts-Gevalt and LaPrelle, respectively). Their joint mission, says their Web site:

WE HOPE THAT OUR WORK

  • BRINGS LIGHT to old ballads, tunes, hymns, and the stories of everyday people.
  • HONORS the lives & creativity of those who have gone before us — ancestors, pioneers, friends, and dear teachers
  • PASSES THE TRADITION to a younger generation & encourages friendships across generations
  • INSPIRES people to make art in their own homes.
  • JOINS conversations with other artists & community makers — in learning how to create art that feeds, that brings people together to sing, dance, and ask the difficult questions.

Which, you might say, is a mighty big chunk of ambition to bite off. Nonetheless, they’re making a pretty sizable dent in it. A couple weeks ago, they released their second album of reimagined “old-timey” music. They are touring over the next several months, performing at venues up and down the east coast of the US, the Midwest, the Northwest; in the UK; in Canada.

Finally, both relevant and not to be sneered at: Anna & Elizabeth are aficionados of an old, old art form called “crankies.” Picture a story or ballad — a story song — told visually, by way of a series of consecutive panels… which are joined together in a looooong roll and hand-cranked through a frame to illustrate or comment on the passing scene and moments.

Not only their sweet-harmony performances and musical tastes, but also this affinity for frame-at-a-time storytelling, make them the perfect accompanists for Lynn Tomlinson’s video.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for your very thoughtful and thorough post about my film, The Ballad of Holland Island House. Your point about the island being made of clay and silt is excellent and gives me food for thought. I appreciate very much that you took the time to read and think about the film and the wonderful music that Anna and Elizabeth make. If you ever have the chance to see them perform with their crankies, it is not to be missed!
    -Lynn

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