This month, in honor of Irish-American Heritage Month, we welcome Anne Weber of Great Diamond Island back to our blog post. Anne recently published her first novel, A Pencil in His Pocket, about her great grand uncle, John Mulvany, who immigrated from Ireland in 1851 and ultimately became a well known artist of the American west.
Anne kindly responded to my questions about her new book, as well as her personal connection.
How exactly are you related to John Mulvany? (which of his siblings do you descend from?)
John Mulvany is my great grand uncle. His half sister, Alice O’Brien, is my great grandmother
How did you balance the few known facts about John with the fictional aspect of telling a good story?
The facts became the foundation for the story, i.e. I knew John worked on the Erie Canal as a tow boy, but not how he ended up there, what boat he worked on, who he met, etc. So after researching the Canal for this time period, I used what I learned to write the story so John could learn what would make him the man he became – deeply connected to Irish freedom and an artist.
The same thing holds for how John came to America in 1851. Despite all my research, I could not find a record of his entering this country legally. So I created the Duffy family and Eamon O’Rielly.
Where did you find good historical resources of information about John Mulvany, as well as general history, such as about his home in Ireland, his family, his immigration to America, and his time on the canal?
In 1985, I began with a genealogy search which connected me with contemporary cousins in Ireland. In 1987, I was invited to visit Moynalty, Ireland where the Mulvany family still lives. The cousins have been invaluable to uncovering verifiable information. And then, of course, came the stories. I visited the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, NY for a first hand look; I spend hours reading. The internet might give me direction but the libraries were/are the best place to get the books to verify. Roy Finch’s The Story of the New York State Canals, Richard Garrity’s Canal Boatman, My Life on Upstate Waterways, and Lionel Wyld’s Boaters and Broomsticks were very helpful.
You are an artist – how does your work relate to the artwork of John Mulvany? (how is it similar, how is it different?) What do you admire most about his work, from an artists’ point of view?
My art work is a different style and genre. John Mulvany was a man of his time; portraits and history painting. He created three dimensional objects using light and dark. I use the temperature of color to create space; warm and cool colors. As I’ve learned what it takes to sustain a career in the arts, I really appreciate his persistence and dedication. He sketched a picture of a newsboy selling papers two weeks before his death. That picture is lost.
What do you think John would think of your book? If you could sit down in a conversation with him what are some of the big questions you would ask him?
I hope he would think the book was a good effort.
I would ask him where he stored his paintings at the end of his life; what arrangements he made for “Anarchists”, and his Civil War paintings.
What did happen the last night of his life?
What were his regrets?
Why did he switch subject matter – from Western to Irish. “Preliminary Trial of a Horse Thief” and “Custer’s Last Rally” had made his reputation and then he turned to Irish themes; i.e. “The Battle of Aughrim” which was found in a flea market, sold on eBay in 2010 for over $200,000.
A Pencil in his Pocket is Book One of a series about John Mulvany. For more information about Anne and how to purchase this book, see https://anneweber.me/. Anne will also be speaking about her book at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on April 24th, at 2:00 p.m.