PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
Everyone comments on the large paintings that adorn the walls of the Main Library building.
They were donated to the library in 1916 by the widow of the artist, Eliphalet Frazer Andrews (1835-1915).
Most are copies done for the Steubenville Centennial Celebration in 1897, painted from earlier works of the artist.
In 1982, the State Auditor of Ohio required that the paintings be reviewed for monetary value after finding a painting hanging on the wall of another Ohio Library was worth more than $ 1 million dollars.
Well, our collection of paintings was found to have no monetary value beyond what the reviewer called, “local interest.”
Regardless, people delight at staring at the huge canvases that they think are different poses of George Washington, but are actually Baron von Steuben and George Rogers Clark.
When I arrived in 1983, the staff discussed the “other painting” in the collection, that was in storage and carefully wrapped up in protective paper.
It was the only portrait of a woman in the library; Mrs. James Collier, and was done about 1870 of the wife of Colonel James Collier who served in the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Mrs. Collier was damaged in 1965 when vandals broke into the library (before the days of alarm systems and cameras) and upset that no money was found, they slashed that one painting, leaving it ripped and tattered.
Poor Mrs. Collier reposed in storage, waiting the day that some kind person could find a way of fixing her.
The review of the paintings included Mrs. Collier, and it was suggested that we contact the Allen Art Museum at Oberlin College for suggested restoration costs.
I did, and found that $ 14,000 would restore the painting, but that the restoration costs were well-beyond the actual value of the painting.
They suggested that the library donate the painting to the Allen Art Museum, and they could cut it up in squares for the students to practice restoration, after photographing it for historical purposes.
We reluctantly did that, and I delivered it to Oberlin, and provided additional information for the historical sketch.
Her name was actually Eunice Ingersoll Collier (1790-1889) and she lived to be nearly 100 years of age.
Two years passed, and I received a call from Oberlin. The restoration program decided not to cut up Mrs. Collier, and actually they had grown fond of her to the point they restored the whole painting intact.
For just the price of the materials, Eunice Ingersoll Collier could come home in one piece and again adorn the walls of the library.
I made the trip to Oberlin, and there was the class who had restored her, waiting to tell me all about the restoration.
They had fallen in love with Mrs. Collier. Her chin had to repainted and the form is a guess, since the slashes had destroyed that part of the painting.
She has a “Mona Lisa” smile now, which is hopefully correct.
The painting was originally in an oval frame. Two layers of old varnish were removed to expose the bright painting.
I returned her to the walls of the South Reading Room, a location she hadn’t seen since the 1940s.
Maybe at night, she chatters with Baron von Steuben, James Ross, and Bezaleel Wells, the other portraits in the room.
Perhaps the men were glad to have Eunice back in the group.
I am just glad that she returned in one piece, ready for the next century of making people happy in the Reading Room of the library.