Recently my boss at one of my part-time jobs asked me to do a little bit of research. We found a painting of an anonymous woman in our attic, and she asked me to find out who it was before we hung it up.
I started on the back of the painting, which was signed by the artist Eugene Kools. I did a Google search. The first hit was his obituary. The obituary led me to the cemetery caretaker, and that person also happens to work at the public library. The librarians provided me with more obituaries for the artists family members, and through those obituaries I was able to find living relatives’ names and a phone number for the church where the memorial service for a Kools family member was held.
The church gave me the phone number for a living relative. I called it, and was able to talk to someone who knew the artist and was very interested in the painting. A few days later, we met with a representative from the Kools family, and were able to return the painting to the artist’s family.
But there were still pieces missing. Who was the subject of the painting? The old woman in the painting was not recognized by the Kools family. Also, how did the painting end up at the Chamber of Commerce? Our puzzle was not complete, and the Kools family asked us to continue our research.
Still later, at a business after hours function, I met someone who said his mother saw the article in the newspaper about our painting. She recognized the subject of the painting, and the search was on. I called the woman and spoke to her. She is 97 years old. Her name was Virginia, the same as the woman in the painting, and she told me many, many details about Virginia W. from the painting, which helped me continue my research.
My clues: first, her name. A quick Google search on the Internet revealed nothing. I tried the library again; they were able to provide an obituary for Virginia W. That obituary also listed two surviving relatives, both sons of Virginia’s (more clues). More googling revealed that one, the oldest, is a professor at a university in Pennsylvania. It was easy from there to find his email and phone number. More searching revealed the second son deceased.
The best part was when that son gave me a call back. He had gotten my message, and my email with the attached photo of the painting, and said “Yes, that is definitely my mother.” He told me that she was not a librarian in town, but that she was the librarian in her hometown. He told me many of the same details that Virginia had told me, but also some interesting other tidbits. He said that her husband, his father, was the original Music Man, from Gary, Indiana. He was the vice president of a big business in town.
Virginia was the first president of the service league here in town, and when the artist offered to paint a portrait of her and of her husband, the painting of her was much larger. That meant when he moved, he was unable to take it with him. He retained the portrait of his father. The portrait of his mother was donated to the service league.
The only missing piece is how the painting ended up at work. For that we are waiting for a phone call on Monday from the service league, which is currently going through its files for clues.
As the son said, “Reference librarians are second to private detectives.” He would know – he is a professor of English. Thanks to my mother for my research skills!