Artwork / Apple Pie / Liberty (French-American, Self-portrait)

a French-American woman as the Statue of Liberty
Gwenn Seemel
Liberty (French-American, Self-portrait)
acrylic on linen
42 x 19 inches

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I don’t tend to make paintings with such a limited palette, but towards the beginning of my career I did so a couple of times, on a whim here and very purposefully here. This is the first time I was commissioned to do so.

Below is my answer to this question: what does it mean to be an American?

As American as mom and apple pie.

My mom emigrated from France when she was my age. “Maman” is what I call her, and the closest she gets to pie in her kitchen is an equally delicious combination of pastry and apples termed “tarte aux pommes.”

Growing up, I was aware of being different. It wasn’t every kid I knew who had a French mother. And, among my American playmates, it certainly wasn’t common to see the inside of a schoolhouse in a small village in France, learning long division and the history of World War II from the French perspective in the same rooms where your mother had done when she was little. Over the years, I visited my French grandparents, cousins, and friends often. When I was twenty, I took a semester in Paris to study mime and visual art. The intense training in corporeal theater and the equally forceful exposure to art theory shook me awake, and I was sorely tempted to abandon my American life and stay on. As I weighed my options, I suddenly realized that I actually had that choice to make.

I can live in France as a full citizen, instead of just as an expatriate who is forever between cultures. I have a passport and I speak the language. I have binding ties of family and childhood friends there. I was raised in that culture as well as this one: it could easily become my own. In a very real way, every day that I am here instead of there, I choose the United States over France. My arguments for doing so are illogical and un-verbal. I can’t say why I am French-American and not a French person with an American father, only that I choose to be.

I’m American by choice.

- Gwenn Seemel