When I was a child, this painting hung high in an odd corner of a living room wall in my great aunt’s house, higher than artwork etiquette would normally allow, in the shadow of a short stairway in the hall of the boarding house space above her living room. And, though it hung in shadows, there was always something luminescent about it. That house had originally been built by my paternal grandmother’s father and mother, and her sister stayed in the house for many years after they died. Grandma told me once that her mother had purchased the painting and hung it in that spot to cover a large blank wall space that was created by an upstairs passageway, before Grandma was born. So, that would mean the painting was purchased sometime prior to 1912, and most likely was right around 1900.
It’s an unusual piece of work, in that it’s painted backward on glass, in a process that reverses the usual way of paintings done on canvas. So, what are the surface details were painted first, and then middle-ground and background were layered on top of that. Then, when it was finished and framed, it was turned around so that you are viewing it through the glass on which it is painted. Furthermore, the moon was applied before the paint, and is made of mother-of-pearl, as are some of the stained glass windows. It was and is considered commercial art, not fine art. I had it appraised a few years ago, after my dad got it in his head that it might be worth serious money. I was told that, in excellent condition it would be worth something in the two to three hundred dollar range, but that in its condition it might worth seventy five dollars and that mostly for its restorable frame.
That’s okay, it’s not about money for me. My great aunt’s house, mentioned above, was one block from my elementary and junior high school. We lived about fourteen blocks from the school, and most of the time I walked to and from. However, in extremely cold weather, my mother would get me up early and drive me to Aunt Loretta’s house on her way to work. I would wait there for the half hour or so before the school doors opened, and walk the final block. Then, if the afternoon was still extremely cold, I would walk to Loretta’s house after school, call Mom and watch television with Loretta or read comic books or do school work, until Mom got off work and picked me up on her way home. There were two couches in Loretta’s living room, and I would often lie back on one, facing the wall on which this painting hung, and daydream. Sometimes, I would make up little stories about living near this river and lake and church or abbey, whatever it was, just to amuse myself and pass time.
Later, after Loretta died, Grandma had this painting in her bedroom, and, being an artist, she also painted a version of it on canvas, which I’m pretty sure my older brother has. I asked her if I could have this one someday, and she wrote my name on a piece of paper and attached it to the back. After she died, my dad assumed custody of it, and told me I could have it after he was through with it. Eventually, he began watching Antique Roadshow or some such, and got the idea that I mentioned earlier, that it might be worth some money. I got a little stubborn at that point, and insisted on bringing it back to Minneapolis and having it appraised. Once it was established that there was no value to speak of, the debate was over and it has hung in my bedroom ever since. It’s in a spot where I am looking directly at it with my head on my pillows, just as it was when it was high up on Aunt Loretta’s wall, and I would lie back and look at it with my head on the arm of one of her couches. And, yes, sometimes, I still daydream about living inside of it some, when contemplating whether or not to get out of bed in the morning.
It helps me to feel at home sometimes, when I’m lonely for long ago places.