Wednesday, April 12, 2017

An Artist's Tool Box Mystery

I have pretty much given up on my blog but this story was too long for a quick Facebook post. It concerns a box that I found in the basement. It looked like this on the outside and I had thought it was an old gun cleaning kit.

This is what it looked like when I opened it.

What? Art Supplies! Oh how exciting. The cardboard thing on top looked like this when I opened it.

It was pieces of velvet with smudges of shiny color. A closer look at the sides of the card board revealed some writing.

My first guess was that it was some type of experiment. Some long ago family artist trying out painting on velvet? 
I had no idea who the box had belonged to or how old it was. There have been several family members who have done various types of art. I had a Great Aunt who painted with oils a lot. We have quite a few of her paintings and even some of the programs from art shows she was in. (Yes, we save everything) Could this have been Madge's paint box? I asked Dad if he recognized the writing and he said "No".  Well that just made me determined to find out who the mystery artist was. I needed to look for more clues. Back to the box.

First I examine the contents of the smaller metal box. 

The scrap of paper was on top of the other items. It had more writing and five common pins and a needle....but no name. The text is some sort of recipe, "3 parts turpentine, 1 part varnish" and some other words I could not make out.

Also in the box were a few paper clips, 5 dice (I can't imagine what they were in there for), white conte crayons, and these...

The metal object is like an awl without a handle. The other item is a tiny bottle. I tried to read the printing on the label but could only make out the words "headache" and "constipation". Inside the bottle was a fine silver powder. (Yes, I know it probably was toxic and yes, I tried to be as careful as my curiosity would let me be. And yes I do know that old art supplies often were health hazards, lead in the paint and tubes made of lead...etc..)

Next I looked at the paints. Madge painting a lot of landscapes and still lives with an occasional portrait so maybe the colors would be a clue. Here is the lot divided into color groups.

The largest group was the Reds. 

There were two tubes of Signwriters colors in Japan; Poster Vermillion and Signwriters Red. I have no idea what those types of paint are. The others are oils:  Cadmium Red M, Alizarin Crimson, English Vermillion, and Harrison Red. The last two are color names I have never heard of. The horizontal tube at the top was the only black; Lamp black.

For yellows there was Yellow Lake, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow D, Chrome Yellow M, and Chrome Yellow. I know from reading various histories of color that the Chromes are not good. According to Wikipedia; "the pigment tends to oxidize and darken on exposure to air over time,[2] and it contains lead, a toxic, heavy metal, it was originally replaced by another pigment, cadmium yellow."

The blues had a tube that did not look that old to me, the Grumbacher label has not changed much over the years. The tube itself does not look very old either. The colors are French Ultramarine Blue, Thalo Blue, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue, and Cerulean.

The greens have two more chrome colors: Chrome Green Medium and Chrome Green Deep. There is also a tube of Green Earth and Veridian.

There were three tube of browns; Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, and Burnt Umber. 
The only tube of white was this one that I put in with the yellow group, mistaking the label color for the paint color. It is another paint I don't recognize.

The paints were made by Devoe, Devoe & Raynolds, F. Weber Co., Winsor & Newton, and  Grumbacher. The last two are the only brands I recognize. 

There may be clues here as to how old the paints are but it will take some research. And even if I date the paints that might not get me any closer to know whose box this was or what type of art the artist was making. I so wish these things could talk. 
To be continued....

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