For the last three weeks and probably the next three weeks, my livingroom and office are torn apart for a frenzy of bookcase installing, painting, and purging of ten years worth of homeschool materials. Moving anything at our house demands an understanding of the domino effect, meaning five things have to be moved before I can move the thing I actually wanted to move in the first place.
So far my office is half-way disassembled with the re-painting almost finished, and the bookcases are assembled and in place in the livingroom. After the bookcases went in, the pictures were hung, mostly to get them up out the reach of curious cats and rambunctious dogs.
Over the bookcases in the corner, I've hung an unusual pen-and-ink drawing. It's been stashed away behind an armchair, waiting patiently, pretty much the same way it spent approximately 80 years of its life.
Our previous house was built in 1900, complete with a stable in the backyard. The stable had four stalls, and an overhead hay loft, with big swinging doors. By the time we purchased the house in 1992, the stable had long since been reincarnated as a garage. When we crawled up into the hay loft, we found various pieces of trim and lumber, and assorted "stuff" from the original owners.
We also found this placed carefully next to a thick joist, face-up against the roof:
An unframed meticulously detailed sketch of a country lane, rural farmhouse to the right with a stone wall, towering trees to the left, and in the background, barely visible, a village, complete with church steeple.
This original has the pencil signature of E.C. Rost, 1890.
E.C. Rost was an amazingly prolific engraver back in the late 1800's up until 1904. He was the son of a well-known engraver but actually started his own career as an oil painter, with landscapes exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York. By 1887, this versatile artist had moved into engraving (the Library of Congress owns 63 etchings by Rost), spending the next nine years furiously producing contemporary scenes of American life (rural farmhouses, canals, and villages).
Then one day in 1894, as he wandered among the street stalls in New York, he found two of his engravings offered for the cut rate price of $2 each. This enraged him, resulting in a lawsuit against his agents (Fishel, Adler and Schwartz Co.), not only because they had forged his signatures to the artists proofs, but mostly because (as he testified in court) the prints were worth $5 each. He was so angered by this legal confrontation that he never produced another etching, moving entirely into the new field of photography.
Today, the National Archives holds 21 of Rost's photographs, and the Library of Congress maintains another 26, all of early 1900s Cuba.
Researching our engraving on the net, an unusual number of people seem to have found them in the same sort of odd places we did: stuck behind walls, tucked into attic joists, stashed facing backwards in old pie safes.
Many are unsigned, more than a few are signed in ink, with the copyright of Fishel, Adel and Schwartz Co, and a very few are signed in pencil, like ours. I have no idea what this means in terms of whether it's an original original, or just an original copy. But it's an actual pen-and-ink, with a pencil signature.
Meanwhile the gilt frame was from another estate sale, same time period, and just begging to be paired with E.C. Rost - it's a marriage made in heaven. And a engraving with a history.