Mark Ballard

An old painting unleashes a lifetime of memories

Before and after photos of the painting art student Sheila Stark restored.
Before and after photos of the painting art student Sheila Stark restored. Special to The Telegraph

It all started with a very old painted canvas. The canvas had been removed from the wooden strips that once held it, leaving rusty stains where each nail had been. It was folded in half and then in half again. It was found stored with some other belongings. It had a story to tell that went back many years.

Sheila Stark is one of my art students and friends. She found the canvas and couldn’t wait to unfold it. When she did, she had no idea she was unleashing a lifetime of memories. In the painting was an old car parked under the shade of a large tree. In front of the car was a little girl sitting in a chair holding a baby. Sheila couldn’t wait to show her find to her mother, Dorothy Edge.

Here’s where the story gets really interesting. Dorothy is like a second mother to me. I met her many years ago during my television days. She was selected to be a Helper Bee on one of my Saturday segments. I loved her immediately because she was so creative.

When Dorothy looked at the painting that the years had not been kind to, she realized she was the little girl in the painting and was holding her cousin Berner. She couldn’t remember the painting, but her mother had thought enough of it to save it.

Sheila decided to try to restore it to its original state in my art class. She had quite a job ahead of her because much of the paint was flaking and the creases from the folds were very noticeable. Because the paint was chipping, we also realized there was another painting underneath it. All the other students were excited to witness the process, as was I.

Sheila started to match the colors with the original ones and fill in the parts that were gone. I guided her through the process that took the better part of two eight-week sessions. The other students and I could hardly wait for the Thursday evening class to see what Sheila would accomplish. Slowly but surely, the painting started to come back to life.

Since I rarely get to visit with Dorothy, I suggested Sheila bring her to the classes as a visitor. What a good idea that turned out to be. Although Dorothy was too young to remember much about the actual painting, it did stir up a plethora of memories for her. She was born and raised in Forsyth and began to travel back down many of those dusty dirt roads, taking the class and me along with her.

After doing some math, she determined the painting had to have been done in the early 1940s. She had no idea who might have painted the unsigned work and was even more curious about her family having an original piece of art. “We were dirt poor,” she said. “We certainly couldn’t have afforded to commission an original.”

Each week, as Dorothy recounted her life’s 70-plus years, we were all mesmerized. We laughed a lot and sometimes teared up but, even though it wasn’t our life, we all could identify with it and felt like we were sitting under that old tree. We enjoyed the saga as it unfolded. Sheila recently finished the restoration of the painting. It is now being framed. I asked Dorothy where she was going to hang it. Before she could answer, Sheila blurted out, “In my house!”

It's Cherry Blossom Time

Join Mark at 6 p.m. March 23, for a comedy show featuring a Roast & Toast of Carolyn Crayton at the Anderson Conference Center. Tickets are $40 and include dinner. Go to https://cherryblossom.com/tickets/ or call 478-330-7050.

Mulberry Street festival

The Mulberry Street Arts & Crafts Festival on March 24-25 in downtown Macon is the place to be that weekend. Mark and more than 200 other artisans will be there with their newest creations. Free to the public.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email mark@markballard.com; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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