Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Art I

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt made me think of the many hours I spent at the library when I was a student at Madison College (now James Madison University – GO DUKES!). My mother also graduated from Madison, so it is likely we sat in the same time-worn chairs at large tables that look like they came right out of a medieval mead hall.
Library at JMU 1949
image from the yearbook

When the most recent owner of my grandparents’ house contacted me about the family treasures she
Items found in Gillis Rd attic
Just one box of stuff found in my grandparents' attic
uncovered in the attic, I was surprised at the college class notes and assignments my mother had saved, in particular the ones from Art I. She was preparing to become an elementary school teacher, so apparently an understanding of the principles of art was a requirement.

The color wheel, shapes, perspective, balance – basic topics like these are reflected in the papers she deemed worthy of keeping. Surely every elementary school teacher must know these things in order to incorporate art into their curriculum. I get it.

But fashion tricks to enhance the figure or disguise flaws? Home decorating? I do not see how that was relevant to the students who would soon be helping 9-year-olds to construct a Jamestown fort out of popsicle sticks.

Yet in my mother’s little works of art, I see the woman she became. When she was not planning lessons and grading papers, she knitted and sewed. She loved it and was good at it. She smocked. She quilted. She made slipcovers and drapes. Most of our clothes were sewn right there in our dining room. Momma followed the instructions provided in Simplicity, McCalls, and Butterick patterns, but she also was good at combining the sleeve from one and the collar from another to create her own look.  

Art I assignment
Painting by Mary Eleanor Davis 1948
Assignment in Art I

In one assignment, students were to select a fashion style from a much earlier period and adapt it to modern times. Momma adapted a medieval dress for the modern woman. 

She explained:

Explanation of fashion adaptation 
From the 10th-13th century dress, I took the sleeves and fitted bodice. In the adaptation, it is a set-in piece of material rather than a regular belt. 

Didn’t she do a good job? Yet the professor gave her a “C.” A “C”! Just an average job? I want to see the “A” student’s project. No grade inflation in that class!

One assignment that amuses me is about home decorating. I cannot tell whether it was about furnishing a room, about the use of main and accent colors, or what. When my sister and I looked at this drawing, our jaws dropped.
Painting by Mary Eleanor Davis 1948
Assignment in Art I
Green walls and maroon rug – that is exactly the scheme she used when she redid the living room in 2000. 
It seems every picture of the living room was taken at Christmas with presents everywhere
making it hard to SEE my point

This is actually my sister's living room in 2010.
She inherited the rugs and the valances that
were in our parents' house.
Momma made the valance.

Did she subconsciously channel that assignment from 50 years before? It must have been her crystal ball.

All week members of Sepia Saturday have been studying their photos for the best ones to highlight.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. How could that professor give your mom a C on her dress assignment? It was A work in my eyes. I think I would frame both pieces of her art. It is wonderful that you got this box of treasures to enjoy!

  2. How fun to recover this stash of old school papers from your grandparents' home. This makes me want to rummage more in my mother's papers to see what's hiding in there.

  3. How cool to see this from your mom's college time! I bet you had fun looking through it all and coming to know more about your mom than you thought you did! I agree; I would have given her an "A" too for that project. Teachers sometimes can be so subjective with their grading. Your mom was a very talented woman!


  4. What a great find. I especially love the 1948 painting of the Livingroom.

  5. It's quite possible your Mom kept that green walls, maroon rug in her mind all those years until it became possible to recreate her 'dream'. I have kept the dream of a blue, white, & yellow kitchen alive for a long time and hope, one day, to actually have it. And yes - a "C" was a poor grade! I took fashion art in high school and was bothered by the measurements required for the perfect fashion figure as I considered them ridiculous. I followed them as best I could and am glad I took the class as it let me know for sure I didn't want to be a fashion illustrator!

    1. I agree - the green walls and maroon rug were probably her dream room all those years.

  6. So great to have those old papers - and art from your mother. Loved her sense of color!

  7. This attic discovery is an incredible gift! Yes, your mother deserved an A -- and those home decor colors must have resonated with her if she used them herself so many years later. I can't wait to see what else you find among the attic treasures!

  8. That's quite a treasure to be saved for you. My mother's degree was in art education and her teachers were difficult too. This was '48 to '51 and she was strongly discouraged from pursuing a teaching career. Years later after our military life settled in Virginia Beach, she finally became an art teacher, teaching hundreds of children for the next 25 years. Some of her colors and designs from college were part of our family's decor too.