In the fall of 2011 I paid a visit to friends Kim and Dan Davies of Tattered and Torn Antiques. Over coffee Kim mentioned that she had just procured something that I might like to see. Why of course I would. So she brought out a worn and falling apart old Nature study portfolio which contained many drawings, and poems along with some mementos such as old Christmas cards. It only took flipping through a few pages to see that this was a very interesting collection of folk art drawings from the 1st quarter of the 20th Century, and so I didn’t play coy by appearing disinterested (we’ve known each other far too long for that) and came right out and asked her “ Well, before I fall further in love with this thing you’ve got to tell me if you might be willing to sell it.” “Oh sure, I am. I figured it was your type of thing so you might as well have it.” She quoted a reasonable price. I said yes without even looking further, and so I went happily ahead to discover what a treasure I had just purchased. Co-operation between dealers can be a wonderful thing.
Turning the pages I was as happy as a six year old opening his Christmas presents. Each page offered clues as to the identity and story of its creator. Here is how I described it when I offered the works at the 2012 Bowmanville Spring Folk Art and Antiques show.
“ The drawings presented here are taken from the scrap book of Miss Maggie J. Lounsbury, who lived near Warner, in the Niagara Peninsula on the banks of the Chippewa River. Along with the drawings, the book contains poetry, most of which was printed using rubber stamp letters, and some mementos such as Christmas cards. Also, a little, bound book entitled “The swim in the Chippewa” by Maggie J Lounsbury, and dedicated in loving memory of little Judson Erskine Lounsbury, whom we assume was related, and drowned in the Chippewa sometime around the turn of the century. Newspaper clippings and one dated drawing imply that the book was created in the first quarter of the 20th Century, but we believe the ink drawings used as illustrations in small book are older, and were created by a different hand, and were chosen by Lounsbury to illustrate her poem. There is nothing in the book to attribute these earlier works, but three of the original drawings from the book were mounted in the portfolio so we speculate that it may have been a relative. Because the binding of the book was in such a sorry state, we decided to separate and offer the individual works properly framed and mounted on acid free paper.”
We separated about 50 of the best drawings and had them mounted and matted, and sold the bulk of them at the show, and then a bit later I sold the rest of the book including the small booklet “The Swim in the Chippewa” to a local historian. Given the time and the money, it would have been great to restore and keep it all together, but the fact is that it was a scrap book, and so was never intended to hold together as whole, and of course the economics of selling off the individual drawings is much more interesting. I could not bring myself to break apart an antique book of drawings in good condition, but this was not the case here.
The poetry which is rubber stamped across many pages of the book seems almost to be a flow of consciousness. It is quite hard to follow, and there are no personal notes or labeling of the drawings so it is hard to pin down the details, but when you spend enough time with the material you get a strong sense of the Maggie Lounsbury’s personality and sensibilities. Obviously a creative and sensitive young woman, she has had a great tragedy occur very near her, and amongst her sunnier observations of flower gardens and children’s games, there are also images of cemetery’s, and angels, and ominous black snakes. Ultimately, the little booklet is very revealing. It is basically a ten page poem called “The Swim” in which Little Jack has trouble persuading anyone to go swimming with him in the Chippewa. Eventually his mother takes him and he very happily goes swimming until suddenly he is aware of several big black snakes swimming towards him. He rushes to the shore and escapes, and he and his mother go home. A happy ending. However the booklet is accompanied by 1912 newspaper clippings of the unfortunate drowning of little Erskine Lounsbury, the boy the booklet is dedicated to. I will end by reprinting Maggie’s poem which begins the book.
“The Chippewa, with it’s traditional wolf, Indian, robber, esteemed by the little folk who roamed the lovely banks – the hunting par excellence. The enemy, of equal beauty and hideousness , mottled gray, they speedily captured, dragged, wounded and fighting, out of their pretty waters. Away from the dreams they had so labouriously and painstakingly builded, where silvery fish kicked and swimming holes beckoned, across which old Bob White called, whip-poor-wills uttered their plaintive cry: tragedy, lurking silent and grim just where it was deepest – the beautiful Chippewa. “