Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Charcoal Portrait Enigma

"He that spared not His own Son... How shall he not with Him, freely give us all things".  Those solemn words glowered down at me throughout my childhood, every time I entered the living room.  The letters themselves were hand painted by a traveling evangelist, A Mr. George Shivas, I believe, if my memory serves me correctly.  This info I know from Mom.  I must have asked the right questions.  However, I wish now I had asked a lot more questions.  Again if my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Shivas had asked my parents if they had anything suitable to paint on.  Remember though, I may have this story completely incorrect.  Apparently Mom handed over this frame, glass and board for the gentleman to work his reverent magic upon.
A few years ago, when we were cleaning the farmhouse up, I decided to take the framed verse apart -- don't ask, I don't remember why.  Anyhow, upon pulling the protective board off the back of the verse, there was a lovely charcoal portrait of a man and a lady, beautifully executed and preserved.  Perhaps some would suggest I was sacrilegious to turn the verse around, but to me it was more of a sin to have allowed someone to paint something on the back of an original work of art, like this.
So then comes the mystery.  Who is the lovely couple in the drawing?  Although I've never had it examined by a clothing expert, I would guess from the dress and the style of bow-tie and collar that it is circa 1840 -1860.  Any later than that, and I would think they would simply have had a photograph taken.
So possibilities of identification.  Well first of all did Mr. Shivas supply his own materials?  It is possible, but something niggles in the back of my mind that Mom said something to the effect that he asked for something suitable to paint on.  However if that is incorrect, it may have been a Shivas' relative, or maybe just a portrait he picked ups somewhere along his nomadic travels.
I have no reason to think it is anyone on Dad's side of the family.  The older sisters would have gotten anything of this nature, and would have been utterly aghast that it had been defaced in such a manner.
So that leaves Mom's family as the possible list of suspects.   I have good photographs of Mom's parents and grandparents (except for one who died young in childbirth and the handsome young man is definitely not the homely little man who was my great great grandfather).   It is none of these folks to my way of thinking.  My great grandfather Patterson (whom I have immortalized in the large oval frame) had 9 siblings.  I have seen photographs of about 5 of them.  The other five all died of consumption in a 3 or 4 year period.  Four of those who succumbed never married. One of the oldest brothers (that died ) was married a short while.   This is one possibility.  It may be a wedding portrait.  The man does look like the Pattersons.  
Another other possibility is that it may be the parents of the aforementioned ten children.  That would make them James Patterson and Jane McMillan, my great great grandparents. 
A third possibility is that they may be my great grandmother, Sarah Taylor Patterson's parents.    I suggest this one, because of some similarity in looks between the charcoal lady, and the large oval portrait of Great Grandmother.  However, there were several older sisters in that case too, who would have been more apt to inherit the family portrait, to my way of thinking.
So we don't really know who it is.  I like to think it is one of my direct great greats, but that may just be romantic imaginings.  And obviously, anyone who would know, has long departed this mortal plane.   The only hope is that a similar portrait or a photograph of the same people may someday surface, but again, I think of the proverbial needle in the haystack possibilities.
For now, we are happy to have it hang in our home.  It is a good conversation piece.  Who knows maybe someday we'll know more, but until then I'm happy to imagine.
And that is all I have to say for today.
Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.

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