Notes From My Knapsack 4-15-10
Meeting Friends You'd Never Seen Before
Have you had the experience of meeting old friends for the first time?
Most of us have had the chance to run into someone, start to interact with them, and suddenly feel like we've known them for years . . . and those opportunities usually do end up lasting for the rest of your life.
Last fall, I walked into the Avery-Downer House on Broadway, here in Granville, to do a program for Ann Lowder and the Robbins Hunter Museum she so ably directs. Ann smiled wisely at me while talking to some earlier arrivals, and waved me back to the Long Room, in the back of the 1842 Greek Revival marvel next door to the library.
I walked into the room, nodded at Robbins Hunter, Jr.'s portrait in his usual spot over the sideboard, turned, and stopped cold.
On the north wall were two old friends, familiar looking, and quite new in a very antique sort of way.
There were a couple of other people already in the room that I fear I was quite brusque with, being minimally polite until I could turn again and walk a bit closer to the pair of portraits in modern, elegant, simple black and gold frames.
After I'd stared from near and far, straight ahead and at an angle (yep, these were real, original oil paintings, from somewhere in the early 1800s), Ann came in the room, beamed at me, and said "Well, what do you think?"
"What do I think? I think you have two new Amzi Godden portraits!"
The sneak had been holding out on me, but in fairness to Ann, they'd just arrived the previous week as a bequest to the Robbins Hunter Museum from a lady who had visited the Avery-Downer House perhaps only once, back in the late 1960s.
Jean Rumsey had a passion for genealogy that fired her spirit well into her 90s; her home in Lombard, Illinois was so much a workshop for assembling family history from across New Jersey and Connecticut and back into England, into the mists of the medieval era, that she slept on a sofa in the living room, so the breadth of her bed could be yet another platform for sorting and sifting the folders and forms which traced her family history. Those relations included the two elderly figures now on a wall in Granville.
James & Euphemia Reeder are buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Newark; they both died not too long after these portraits were painted, just before the Civil War. Thanks to the staff at Cedar Hill, I quickly found their plots, but the gravestones are long gone, now unmarked if well recorded. A few letters in the Licking County Historical Society point to their home near 11th & Merchant Streets "up on the bluff," and they have a pious history with Newark's First Presbyterian Church where both James, and Amzi Godden's father Lewis were elders and builders of the first church there, and where Euphemia "lived her love to God, and died a triumphant death."
In these two paintings, though, they are remembered, visible, and in a fascinating post-Easter sense, very much alive. You should meet them!
The Robbins Hunter Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 pm or by special arrangement; call Ann at 587-0430 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about you friends, old and new, at email@example.com or follow Knapsack @Twitter.