Family White Elephants

July 30, 2023

Artist/Director Mary Jo Bole mines an eccentric inherited archive in order to trace her family tree, which includes both Cleveland industrialist magnates and immigrant factory workers. Bole’s relating artwork, spanning decades, provides a thread that points to the unexpected ways in which these relatives and their memento mori endure.

Artist/director Mary Jo Bole’s documentary Family White Elephants explores the two sides of her family tree, a trove of inherited possessions, and a pre-occupation with death, all of which have informed her artistic practice. Bole takes a historian’s interest in her family’s storied genealogy, which includes industrial titans like Carnegie and Rockefeller on one side and Eastern European immigrants on the other.   She pieces together their stories through a collection of inherited photographs, newspaper articles, and other ephemera as well as interviews with her mother, Ruth, recorded before her passing.  Preserved and handed down by a lineage of women, Bole’s eccentric family archive documents the Industrial Revolution and offers a familial front row seat to the Gilded Age of Cleveland and its demise. As she reconciles the weight of these excessive family possessions, Bole offers a parallel history of her own artistic practice, which has been influenced by this archive and her upbringing in post-industrial Cleveland.