Margaret Hayes was born in 1940 and lived in Marion until she was twelve years of age. Today she brought in a beautiful watercolour original that was handed down to her from her auntie who passed three years ago.
The painting, which Margaret and I agreed looked like a watercolour image, remains an enigmatic heir. The painter could possibly have gone by the name Leslie Rhile, which was written in cursive writting on the back of the painting and scratched into the wood in the back (perhaps with a pen end?).
As you can tell from the photograph of the painting, the image has kept its colour and is superb condition. However, guessing its age is just that: guessing, at this stage.
As Margaret and I tried to deconstruct the image we speculated it could well be over a century old. The feature of the art is the old Catholic church in the old township of Marion (where it still stands proud today). The lack of telegraph poles for electricity could be an indication of the antiquity of the painting. The church also now has three windows on the side which are not featured in the painting (although as Heather Latz has mentioned in the comments below, this could be a product of artistic license).Margaret mentioned they had no electricity sources when her family lived next door, however. In fact, the church used to run a line over to her own household’s electricity and use that as a source for night missions, midnight mass, choir practice or any other activities at night times!
I asked Margaret what sort of connection she had with this church in the painting, and she pointed to the property fence on the lower left hand corner of the image: she used to live there! Her house was the original Marion butcher shop and had belonged to the Rivers family, from whom Margaret’s family leased the property.
She attended the church and there were a lot of community events that took place there. Margaret said she was invited to sing in the choir and recalls the latin masses and learning the latin words of the songs. At Christmas time she was always chosen to take the little baby Jesus up the centre of the church for midnight mass. She associated a feeling of mystery with this memory as well as a sense of importance. Christmas eve events and midnight masses were always something to look forward to.
Margaret also recalls living next door to the church and what that meant for her as a child. If someone was engaged in the community there would be a campfire and singing around the fire. A lot of community cohesiveness came from the church’s organisation. She recalls the Keane family, who were paritioners and good people who looked after the younger ones.
Margaret’s auntie (the prior owner of the painting) was originally born in Marion also, and probably had a similar connection to the church- which adds further heritage significance to this image for the family. Margaret’s grandmother was very involved with the church and her mother taught religious instruction there- perhaps that is how it ended up with her auntie.
A connection beyond religious significance exists between the church and Margaret that lives on today. Margaret says the church gave her morals and values that didn’t always come from the home but she certainly brought her children up with decent morals and values.
Another childhood memory of Margaret’s is the weddings held next door in the church. There would be great excitement amongst the kids (Margaret was one of 12!) and they would all rush over and have a look: ‘nothing could happen that we didn’t know about,’ Margaret joked.
The conversation with Margaret was an intriguing one- and I truly hope she can one day find out more about the history of her mysterious watercolour. No information yet on the artist or time period has been recovered in Margaret’s research so far but even without those details the image is incredibly symbolic and representative of Margaret’s family history- and local history really- linked with the old church. Thank you Margaret.