An Easter Greeting from 1920 - an artist with a special talent is discovered by serendipity
An Urban Archeologist needs all the help he (or she) can get. Tips often come from the unlikeliest of sources and my latest dig was no exception.
My wife, in recounting her day at work casually mentioned that one of her clients was having an estate sale. I said ‘casually’ because it was almost stated as if it didn’t matter. I decided to ask a few obvious questions,“Wait! What did you say about an estate sale? When is it? Where is it?” It was almost as if she didn’t want me to go! Can you imagine? Sheesh!
With the details covered, I planned my Saturday accordingly. Upon arrival the home was not the clear-out I’d hoped, but it didn’t matter. I was immediately drawn to many books from the late 1800s and early 20th century. This one book caught my eye and would turn out to be somewhat prophetic.
"If you like that...” said the nice woman running the sale. “...You might get a kick out of this.” I was presented with a plain cardboard box that contained greeting cards. Non-plussed, I waited for more information. “These are cards hand-made by a woman someone in my family knew.” One look at the pile and I felt like I had found what I was looking for.
The stack of cards featured several designs mainly of Easter and Christmas, but as you can see they were in various stages of design. The detail and quality was far above average for someone tinkering with homespun cards for friends - these were art pieces created by a young woman named Sara Virginia Hoffman from Danbury, CT.
Why did I want to know about Sara Virginia Hoffman? Other peoples’ lives are none of anyone's business... until you come across something that belonged to them.
Like any lost and found in a school or police station, or hotel lobby desk, the repository matters only to the person who lost the item. Eventually, the item is returned or, if not, donated and owner rejoices or has given up and moved on.
An estate sale is not unlike a lost and found, except the owners are never returning. As sad as this sounds it is important to remember that many of the items at a sale don’t have a definite beginning or point of origin. An unlabeled photograph, a postcard handed down, a
lucky coin and reams of ephemera often have no significance to the person who owned them - they often exist in homes like the unclaimed items in the lost & found box - waiting for the proper disposition.
Once a sale is scheduled, the pickers and collectors, among others, come along and it becomes their job to curate and, by choice, dispose of these items. Not unlike Stephen King’s “Langoliers,” their function though unsettling is necessary to keep the past from piling up and overwhelming the present.
Through the generosity of the seller, these cards would become my property, temporarily, under the condition that I would return them after my research. I enthusiastically agreed and took them packed safely in a box for studying.
The cards were a mix of pencil sketches, inked copies and then color samples (as you can see). They were accompanied by many pieces of blank card stock and envelopes.
She was getting samples of colored copies as well as different colors of paper. High quality hand-made paper reproduced by the Japan Paper Co. using the same method as was used in 13th century Italy.
The uniqueness of all of this makes me wonder - did everyone do this? Or, was Sara just following through on what she learned at school?
Sara Virginia Hoffman was born approximately 1897 and attended the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art around 1919-1920.
The skills she picked up at the school were put to good use, but not only for the cards. I found this calling/business card which gave her true interest in interior decorating.
The image that came with the collection is dated 1955 but not labeled. It is possibly the aunts she lived with - one was Dr. Sara Crawford for whom Sara Hoffman worked as secretary. Sara lived with 2 aunts and pre-deceased them in 1960 at the age of 63.
As always, I wish I knew more - did her cards ever sell or was it just a temporary hobby? Did she ever draw again? It seems her family line ended with her - no husband nor children to see the value in her art. I'll write this in her honor and hope that someday someone - maybe a cousin will connect and discover this lost art. The mysteries continue… More images below: