My mother-in-law is moving to a smaller house. In the process of clearing out the extra stuff, she gave me a picture I’ve always liked. Its an obviously aged black and white image of a grist mill, framed quite simply, which hung in her living room for years. Taken off the wall, the back of the picture reveals that it was framed with parts of a box as a backing (much in the fashion my grandfather used to “frame” things with bits of box and electrician’s tape… in fact their marriage license was framed like that, the electrician’s tape being the frame part) and a few very old nails holding it in.
There was a spot on the picture where it looked like the image had been eaten away to reveal the other side of the box parts, and so, when I got it home, I decided to take the whole thing apart to see if i could manage a little conservation work and keep the image from further degrading. Funny, I had never noticed that damaged portion before, but there it was.
Nail by nail, I removed the backing, gently as I wanted to keep the original cardboard look when I was finished. I slowly lifted the box portions out to find a thinner box advertising a fur coat. I gently lifted the fur box, expecting a fragile image beneath. That’s where I got my surprise.
First, the image was quite thoroughly cemented to the fur box; I don’t know how or why. But when it was away from the matting, the top and bottom of the image were revealed. It turns out that the picture was actually a page from a newspaper. The section heading and date were hidden by the matting.
The section which seemed to be worn through was actually an attribution or explanation of some sort for the picture itself, not underlying text showing through the page. The attribution is mostly illegible, though.
So now I’m left with questions. Whose picture was this? Why did someone feel the need to frame a page from the newspaper? Was the framer also the photographer or maybe the owner of the grist mill? Or maybe it was somebody’s proud mother who framed this page.
I’ve learned that the Springfield Union- Springfield Republican was a newspaper in Springfield MA. I wonder how that image made its way from Springfield to Norris, TN before coming to Pennsylvania to hang behind my sofa.
Anyway, I now know why the picture seemed to hover in its own little world between photography and drawing, why it is aged and yellowed and why I had a sense that if I took it apart I’d find something thin and fragile underneath. But why someone framed it in the first place, I have no idea.