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Amazing Artifact Returns Home to Stoney Creek

New technology uncovers 100-year-old painting

By Jo Urbanovitch

Over 100 Years ago, Sara Galbraith Beemer Calder had a vision for Stoney Creek, and despite the odds, she made that vision into a reality.

Ms. Calder, who was born on August 19, 1847, was a woman of public and patriotic spirit. And although everyone knew of Ms. Calder's active interest in art - she was, for a total of sixteen years beginning in 1894, the first president of the Women's Art Association - no one seemd to know whether or not her own paintings were still in existence.

But Susan Ramsay, curator of the Battlefield House Museum, was convinced Ms. Calder's paintings were out there somewhere and, impressed by the vast accomplishments of Ms. Calder, she began the quest to find her paintings.

In 1997, the Battlefield Museum created a web site, which has generated interest in Stoney Creek and environs as a National Historic Site. And it was through the web site that one of Ms. Calder's paintings resurfaced, making its way back to this community.

In Atlanta, Georgia, Don Calder, a contracting officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services was messing about on his computer, trying to trace his lineage. Later, in an interview, he reflected on a visit to Stoney Creek in the 1960's.

"When I was in high school, we went to visit the battlefield site. My grandmother had information on the Gage family and we had pieced together our lineage. I was aware of my connection (to the Calders).

"When I visited the site, about 35 years ago, I remember walking up to the house and thinking, 'I've seen this house before', and then I remembered my grandmother's painting," he recalled.

His mother had told him around mid-1940 that the painting he remembered had been given to his grandfather by his cousin Ethel, one of Sara Calder's 11 children, nine of whom passed away. The other child who survived was Graham.

Don Calder's grandfather died in 1949, and his grandmother had the painting until her death in 1968. For many years, Mr. Calder's parents displayed it in their home in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Four months ago, they moved to Ann Arbor and no longer had room for the painting.

"For years we thought it was a painting of the Gage House. When my parents moved, I started hunting on the web and found the site for the (Battlefield) Museum," said Mr. Calder, who took pictures of the painting and e-mailed them to Ms. Ramsay.

But there was glare on the photos, which made it very difficult for Ms. Ramsay to determine whether or not the painting was in fact the old Gage House. Mr. Calder decided to send the painting to Ms. Ramsay, and sure enough, much to Ms. Ramsay's excitement, it was a painting of Gage House.

"We were thrilled when we unwrapped the parcel. We knew immediately it was the old Gage House," said Ms. Ramsay. "It was like Christmas in September."

Mr. Calder, now in his late 40s, asked his mother if any other paintings of Sara Calder's had accompanied the one of the Gage House. She suggested he speak to his uncle, who had unloaded the crate containing Sara Calder's painting of Gage House when it arrived more than 30 years ago. While he intends to speak to his relative, Mr. Calder doesn't recall ever having seen any other paintings by Sara Calder.

"My mom didn't have room for (the painting) and no one else had any desire for it. I thought it would be a shame if it were sold. I thought the (Battlefield) Museum might have an interest in it," said Mr. Calder.

And Battlefield Museum is most definitely interested in the oil painting which, according to Ms. Ramsay, depicts the old Gage House from a perspective Ms. Ramsay had not seen in other drawings.

The painting, which Mr. Calder has officially donated to Battlefield House Museum, measures 31" by 45". Currently housed at Stoney Creek's city hall, the oil painting, in an ornately gilded frame, is being appraised.

"You can see the foundation of the house and the rise in the background where the monument now stands", said Ms. Ramsay.

The acquisition of the land on which the monument now stands, along with the purchase of the Gage House, were among Ms. Calder's contributions to the Stoney Creek community. Against all odds, she managed to purchase the homestead and a total of 17.5 acres surrounding it.

Historical records note the men folk were against the monument's construction at that particular site; the public tsk tsked, asking how such a debt could ever be repaid. But after 14 years, the land was paid for thanks to the Women's Wentworth Historical society and today, the Battlefield monument, constructed in 1913, stands as not only a reminder of the battle fought there, but also as a symbol of the perseverance of one woman: Ms. Calder.

Descendants of the Calder family will officially present the painting to Mayor Anne Bain in a ceremony at Battlefield Museum on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m.

Reprinted with permission from the Stoney Creek News, October 11, 2000.

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