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REASONS WHY Why We Came by Santa Margarita artist Peg Grady is a linen piece that lists the reasons different people and their ancestors had for immigrating to America. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PEG GRADY

THE JOURNEY Nocturnal Journey by Joe Thomas touches on themes like how we as a country treat some of our most vulnerable people, like children. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE THOMAS

BEACON OF HOPE Show curator WB Eckert's acyclic painting The Shining City on the Hill captures the feelings behind the ideals that people associate with the United States. - PHOTO COURTESY OF WB ECKERT

America: The Promise art show highlights country's ideals

November 16, 2017 - New Times

By Ryah Cooley

Why did you come here?

On the surface, it's a pretty basic, straightforward question. But artist Peg Grady found the answers were anything but.

When the Santa Margarita-based fiber artist posed that question on Facebook, asking friends why they or their ancestors made the trek to America, she received more than 100 comments.

"I got so many stories, it was amazing," Grady said.

Grady's work, along with other local artists' pieces, is currently on display at Studios on the Park as part of the America: The Promise art show.

The exhibit seeks to put a finger on just what has sparked the imagination of immigrants for generations, including but not limited to ideals like freedom of speech, equal opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness.

Grady said that while all of the stories she received were unique, many touched on common themes like freedom of religion and opportunity. One of her favorite stories came from a friend, whose ancestors came over from England to escape religious persecution, only to have their daughter be accused of being a witch and died in prison. Many of these stories were lovingly stitched onto linen for Grady's piece Why We Came.

With the recent attempt at a Muslim travel ban by the Trump administration, Grady says it seems ironic that while many came here to practice their religion of choice freely, we now try to turn some away.

"Look at who we are," Grady said. "Look at how we started."

Paso Robles artist and show curator WB Eckert said he came up with the concept of the show last November after the presidential election, when things started to feel very divisive across the country.

"The political climate was pretty rough, and I thought it was a good idea to have a show that drifted more towards why people want to come here," Eckert said.

The title of one of Eckert's pieces in the show, The Shining City on a Hill, comes from a Ronald Reagan quote. The acrylic painting shows a figure in a small boat, rowing toward a stunning gold and emerald kingdom.

"It's not a geographical location," Eckert said. "It's an idea. That's what people come here for. But we make a mistake when we think it's easy for people to come here. We forget that we weren't always here."

Joe Thomas, of Paso Robles, touches on the journey from one land to another in his painting Nocturnal Journey. In a combination of acrylic, spray paint, and glitter, Thomas shows a child in footie pajamas sitting atop a horse, wearing the American flag as a cape.

"There's a certain element of innocence to it, the idea of what it means to be in America," Thomas said. "We really have to ask ourselves what do we want to become, and are we proud when we tell others that we're an American?"

Eckert said it's important to remember that these lofty ideas of the promise of America don't necessarily represent where we are now as a country, and that's OK. After all, change is a process.

"This is an ideal America and not just a place," Eckert said. "It's a work that will never end. It's always a work in progress."

Reflections on home
The America: The Promise art exhibit will be on display at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles through Nov. 19. Visit for more information.