Reverse Art

Reverse art on grandparents wall

My grandparents used to have a painting hanging in their living room that I’d stare at for hours when I was at their house in Richland. I’m talking about my mother’s parents, Tillie and Harry Zellers.

It was a painting of a cabin in a somewhat desolate snow covered landscape with smoke coming out of the chimney and light shining out of the windows. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was an example of reverse art or reverse painting on glass; all I knew was that it fascinated me.

Fast forward to the late 80s and my grandfather had died and my uncles and my mother were planning on selling off his possessions to help finance my grandmother’s care, as she had had a stroke and was no longer able to manage by herself.

I put in a bid of $100 for that painting that I recalled so fondly from my youth. And here things get a bit fuzzy.

My uncles and my mother, in particular my uncle Mark and my mother, were not all seeing eye to eye at that time and there was a lot of disagreement and harsh words being bandied about. I think many families go through something like this when decisions need to be made about elderly relatives.

Anyway, Mark was taking the lead on the the auction of the possessions, and my mother conveyed back to me in Philadelphia that Mark had set aside that painting for me.

But then suddenly I was no longer going to get that painting, and it was going to be auctioned off with the rest of the possessions. My mother said she and my father would bid on it for me.

[In thinking it over at this late date, here’s my hypothesis as to what may have happened, but it’s only speculation with no way to confirm it. My mother told Mark that that I wanted that painting, but she didn’t tell him that I was willing to pay a hundred bucks for it. Mark initially agreed, but then something happened, perhaps words were spoken or perhaps he just decided to get back at my mother for some reason so he changed his mind and put the painting up for auction with everything else. As I said, there’s no way to confirm it, but my mother could be stubborn and Mark could be a hot head, so…]

The day of the auction arrived and apparently the painting was not handled with the kid gloves that it needed to be. It was just tossed around or kicked around or whatever, because when it came up for bidding, it was no longer pristine, there were chunks of the paint missing.

Then, as my mother told me later, and she related this in high dudgeon, she wasn’t the only one bidding on it. Her brother, my uncle Neal, was bidding on it as well, even though she had told him that I wanted it. The upshot was that she ended up paying—wait for it—$100 for the painting—which was what I had offered to pay in the first place. My mother was quite put out by the whole thing. I offered to reimburse her, but you know how mothers are, or at least the way my mother was.

Anyway, that’s when Wanda, the former Wanda Schaeffer, my uncle Reed’s wife, told me that the painting was an example of reverse art, and that I ought to be able to have it repaired.

Well, I should have looked into having it repaired immediately, when the damage was still fairly minor, but over the years, the paint continued to chip away, as you can see.

I have found a place that can repair reverse paintings, but I fear that now the damage is so severe, I suspect it’s no longer cost effective. In fact, I suspect that if the back is removed from the glass, the whole painting will just crumble, so I’ve resigned myself to leave it as it is.

Leave a Reply