Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Double Portrait.


I posted about my sister's house in San Antonio when I was there in June. One of my 
favorite pieces is a painting of her husband's grandmother. I asked her to tell me the storyand here it is. 

12 June 2013

Dear Katie,
Soon after Bobby & I were first married, his only Aunt, (Mary Katherine Zander Sheldon) gave us a couple of old photos and told us the stories that went with them. 
One little sepia-colored photo was of Bobby’s grandmother as a toddler. She was born in 1902, and she looked to be about 3 in the photo. The amazing thing about this picture was that it was a very creative double portrait- you could see her precious little cherub face looking into a large mirror- maybe a hall mirror of her home where she grew up in Virginia- causing the viewer to not only see her profile, but also her full face portrait in the mirror. It was enchanting. And brilliant. 
I took it to a framer and made sure they carefully museum-mounted it and then chose a delicate gold frame for this Little Miss. I then set it on a table in my dining room. I adored this precious little lass just as I adored the grown version of Bobby’s grandmother!

One night we had a little party of co-workers in our home. Part of this evening was an indoor treasure hunt- where you hide things hidden in plain view in your home for people to find- a button, a gold chain, a stamp, etc. People must look at your belongings very closely to see if they can find these hidden objects in plain sight!

During the game, our headmaster’s wife was inspecting the little photograph of Grandmother. She was an artist and an art teacher at a local private school. She commented that some day she would love to paint that photograph. She loved it. A seed was planted. 
A year or two later, we went to the opening of one of her art shows. Her work was fabulous- mostly Victorian, turn-of-the century. But what really intrigued me was that she painted her beautiful watercolor paintings with only 4 colors- all of them. She never wavered. I asked her why. She said she wanted to master these four colors first before she added others. She said she still had a lot to learn. (Not in my opinion!) 
A couple of years or so passed and Bobby’s granddad gifted Bobby a little bit of money. It seemed now was the time. We could ask to see if we could commission the artist to paint this little picture. When I contacted her I was so excited that she remembered the photo and was still interested. 
We decided on a size of the portrait (bigger- but would show a lot more detail) and she went to work. I felt a little like an expectant mother again waiting to see this new "child"!

We were thrilled with the results. Marilyn studied this beautiful portrait better than we ever had. She precisely painted the delicate pleats on Grandmother’s dress- and found a ring and a necklace we never knew existed. And she said based on the setting she guessed it was taken in the family home because of the architecture of the mirror and the rug, which was popular at that time. 

We had noticed neither. Marilyn added that painting the tiny face had made her a bit nervous. Not only was it a double portrait and both faces needed to look like the same little girl, but also the features were so delicate that she had to use a brush with a single hair to put in the eyelashes and she didn’t want to put a single stroke out of place.

We were wild about her rendering and have enjoyed it ever since. 
The watercolor hung in various places in the house, while the little portrait then hung in our hall with other family photos. When we remodeled I enlisted the help of a wonderful decorator friend of mine to arrange the pictures, furniture and other items in our home after we moved back in. I was exhausted and wanted to the job done well and quickly. I had unpacked everything and just set all the paintings around the floor as well as other unpacked objects. I told her I would not tell her my favorites but to use what she liked where she liked. She worked quickly and brilliantly- I handed her nails and the hammer. When she realized that the painting was of the little photograph, she put them together. But then she placed the little chest that had been in Grandmother’s bedroom underneath (we needed something small) and then put the jewelry box that had also been Grandmother’s on the chest.

 We declared the space perfect and then I told her that the child was Bobby’s grandmother and the table & jewelry box had belonged to her. I guess they all belonged together!
Love you,

If you would like to see more of my sister's house follow the link. 
This story is indicative of what I believe. Our possessions can have meaning and when they tell a story of our family's history they become a treasure. Having these special objects sprinkled about our house make our place a home. It creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. 
This painting is a story in a story. We can all go to the local decor shop and buy a painting because we like it. When we have something that tells a story, it becomes something much more.
I thought you would like to see the letter for yourselves.
What do you treasure? 

Linking with,
French Country Cottage


  1. Oh, wow…that story gave me chills! Both the photo and the painting are lovely…and I love them stacked together, along with the little chest. It's a space to treasure! This is what makes a house a home. Thanks for sharing your sister's letter.

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