Maplewood History: Behind the Scenes

Some parts of my job here at Maplewood History are very easy.  When the Bill Jones light comes on and another one of his excellent recollections (typed by his wife, Barb, of course) appears on my screen…that’s easy.  All I have to do are add a few appropriate photographs and it’s ready to go. But I am involved in other events that the casual reader can’t imagine.

Recently my lust for historic Maplewoodiana has taken me as far west as Wildwood and as far east as Sauget.  Both trips were well worth it and wonderfully productive. At other times I seem to spend several hours with not much to show for it.  But it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps me going. When interesting discoveries are made it’s exciting.

I have been spending a pretty good bit of time on the Sutton and Thomas family artifacts that recently surfaced.  The trove mentioned in earlier posts consists of a wide variety of items, not only photographs and written material.  I photograph everything at least one time but some things I wind up photographing two or three times before I get the images I’m after.

Particularly hard to photograph are images that are framed and behind glass.  If I can I like to remove the image or document from the frame so I can get a clear shot.  Then I always return them to their frames and try to leave them in better condition than I found them.  This usually means just cleaning everything as good and gently as possible with just water for the frame and glass. I might use a very soft brush to dust off the artifact.  I never try to clean them directly. Then I usually put acid free paper behind them even though some have just spent a hundred years hard up against a piece of wood. Last, if possible, I try to reattach the backing with the same nails that I removed even returning them to the exact holes I removed them from.  If this seems excessive to you, I don’t think it is. If the item is very old and hasn’t been monkeyed with the nails can be very small square brads. I’ve run into some of those in this latest trove. So far I’ve put them back where I’ve found them. The nails themselves are a record of time.

Yesterday I was working on two of the framed photographs when I made a couple of very interesting discoveries.  I believe you’ll find them interesting as well.

This image of an old gentleman in a top hat is part of the trove of Maplewoodiana that I keep referring to. The family legend says this man is James C. Sutton. I can’t say for certain that he is not but I have my doubts. I have examined this photo carefully and the only other known image of James C. Sutton. I have had quite a bit of training in figure and portrait drawing and painting and they just don’t look like the same face to me. Also the photographic technique used to produce this image is the same as the one used to produce the known James Sutton image. Seems to me like they would be different if they were taken at different stages of his life.

This frame had no glass which I replaced. Also the wooden back was held on with duct tape. Goop and a very sharp chisel got rid of the tape residue.

The only nails were upholstery tacks which I judged not worth saving. I used a couple of strips of birdseye maple leftover from another project to keep everything together. They are attached with screws so whoever has to take it apart the next time will have an easy time of it. The white showing is a piece of acid free paper I put to separate the photograph from the wood. This is an example of the sort of behind the scenes thing that I take for granted. I don’t own this photograph. It is going back to its owner. I like to do my part to help preserve these very rare items.

You may remember this drawing of the Sutton mansion by Vic Vac that first appeared a couple of posts ago. The owner was kind enough to let me closely examine it.

The paper on the back of the frame was badly deteriorated. The nails holding the drawing in the frame were rusted. Sometime in the past the drawing suffered some minor water damage.  Next comes the exciting part.

When I flipped that deteriorated paper over, this page of comics was on the back of it. Some of you may recall that Vic Vac drew sort of comic figures when he worked for the Globe-Democrat. The three strips on this page were drawn by a person named Sidney Smith who worked for the Chicago Tribune.

Best of all was finding the date. August 6, 1933.

That razor sharp chisel came in pretty handy again for removing that deteriorated backing. The little nippers are good for removing the nails.  The magnet is good for keeping track of the nails.

This product was used just behind the drawing. It has a fake wood grain as you can see. It appears to be a heavy cardboard. I have a Stanley plane in my collection that was used to cut this sort of stuff. It has very sharp blades like a mat cutter has. From memory I think the number is a 196. I’ve heard of a product like this called Beaver board but I’m not sure if that is what this is.

On the back of the drawing are these notes most likely made by Vic Vac himself. I’d guess that would be the woman’s name and address who bought the drawing.  The drawing measures 14 x 20″ and is still in a Br.(own?) frame.  Some artists (like my Mother) keep a running total on the articles they produce.  I speculate that might explain the number 566. I believe this is an original drawing.  It is done on some sort of art board.  It is not paper.

Here is the best view of the artwork that we’ve had yet. I took the liberty of repairing some of the water damage with Photoshop but only on this digital copy.

Once again I would like to thank the descendants of the Sutton and Thomas families for sharing with us these family and community treasures.

17 thoughts on “Maplewood History: Behind the Scenes

  1. The false teeth could be more recent. I remember as a child the building being a nursing home.

    • Margaret, Woodside was used as a nursing home. From memory the years were from 1938 until one of the regular readers of this space, Maplewood Judge Tom Bakersmith, ordered it shut down in 1975. I imagine the reason was the owners were not keeping everything up to the minimum requirements for such a business. Tom, if you want to chime in here please feel free to do so.
      As for the false teeth, they were found amongst the remains of a 19th century privy, the contents of which were three or four feet below ground. Still I suppose it’s possible some late model false teeth might have made it into the mix for our effort at archaeology was anything but well controlled.
      In 2005 0r 6, I was at Woodside watching an excavator dig the pit for the foundation and basement of the condos that would be built in the side yard. Below the topsoil was mostly a yellowish type of clay. Suddenly in the NW corner of the pit the bucket uncovered a deposit of rich black soil bristling with artifacts. I jumped down in the pit and told him to hold up while I started grabbing as many of the artifacts as I could. Right at that time, Martin Fischer, whose name is familiar to readers of this blog, showed up and jumped in to help me. There were many different kind of unbroken bottles, pottery shards, a smashed oil lamp, too much to even recall. Meanwhile the operator of the excavator was leaning on the steering wheel glaring down at these two characters who were in his way. So wisely Marty and I backed off and had him scoop up the contents of the privy and put it on the front lawn.
      I don’t remember exactly how but we got in touch with Professor Tim Baumann at UMSL who drove out took a look and then lent us wooden frames with a wire bottom for sorting the artifacts from the dirt with water. Many folks helped us do that. Tim then wound up taking a great deal of the artifacts back to school for his Museum Studies students to clean and sort. Chief among them was an outstanding student, Amy Creasy now Amy Clark.
      I wound up with 11 good sized boxes of artifacts that are still in my basement. The aforementioned false teeth were found with the rest.

  2. Now, I can’t see it very well, but the image old gent in the hat? It doesn’t look to me like a photograph.

    • Tom, I missed it but you have seen it the way it is. Now I think what we’re looking at is a photograph of a painting as far as the old gentleman is concerned. I’ll do a post on it. I’ve run into this before while researching the Rannells family of Woodside. I took a photograph of a portrait painting of Charles Rannells here in Maplewood that was painted about 1842. When other descendants in California contacted me and said they were sending a photograph of Charles Rannells, I was excited. There are no known photographs of Rannells who died in 1877. When I received their photograph, as you can probably guess, it was a photograph of the painting. Now that you have said it I think that’s exactly what we’ve got here. I was missing some very obvious signs. I’l compare the two images up close in an upcoming post. As always, thank you for your often enlightening comments.

  3. I sure can have an understanding of the time involved because I traced my family history. Lots and lots of searching sometimes yielded information and sometimes nothing or one tiny piece of information. It would take multiple visits to some places to find what I needed because first I had to get the logic of how things were organized or I didn’t know all the questions to ask on the first visit. The amazing thing was when I started I never would have imagined how much information I would end up finding. It all depends on well records were kept and then preserved.

    • You are absolutely right, Gary Lee. I’ve been involved with Maplewood History for 16 years and I’m stunned at how much keeps turning up. When I began I wondered if I’d find enough to fill a book. Now I think we could find enough to fill a set of encyclopedias.

  4. Doug, something you could try is Google Photos AI. Upload both photos, label the one you “know” to be Mr. Sutton, and see if Google Photos “finds” the other one. Just a thought!

  5. This is fascinating. The magnet is a brilliant idea. I notice that the gentleman in the picture seems to have lost most of his teeth. That could explain some of the differences in comparison to the other portrait.

    • Doug, Re: “the gentleman seems to have lost his teeth”, Didn’t we find a set of false teeth in it when we excavated the old privy on the Woodside property?

      • We certainly did, Tom. They are still in my basement with a lot of other artifacts from that privy. As a matter of fact I have 11 good size boxes of those artifacts that were cleaned and sorted by the Museum Studies students at UMSL. They wouldn’t have belonged to Sutton though because as you know Woodside was the home of the Rannells family.

  6. pretty neat stuff you get to do there my friend. You ever asked the history museum people if you are doing this right. I only ask because in watching documentaries about keeping artifacts I see they have all kinds of little tools and bottles of different cleaners for things. On on show I saw the old pink gum eraser type material that used to be used to clean wallpaper being used to dust a picture that did not have a glass. And I have seen them using things like dental tools to get in little crevices.

    I am not saying you are doing anything wrong at all. I just would be so worried about even taking something apart that is that age I doubt if I would have the courage to clean it for fear of damage.