First, you have to find a patsy. You can go about this a number of ways.
Wait. Ohhhh, the other kind of framing. The kind we do around here at Lovetts Gallery. In the year I’ve been writing the blogs, we’ve never really discussed framing, which is odd because that's a huge part of what we do. With all the fantastic art we get from our talented corps of painters, potters, glass blowers and shapers, and sculptors, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we began life as a frameshop that featured some original art and prints.
I’m not telling you anything you can’t find on the Lovetts Gallery website, but we feature more than 9,000 picture frame mouldings, which is the largest and most diverse selection in this region of the country. You should drop by the gallery sometime, eschew all the original art, walk up the wooden ramp and take a gander at our “collection.”
The other day, after helping one of our collectors select a four-layer frame for his new Brett Lethbridge, Jack had me put some of the moulding samples back on the wall. After standing there and looking around for 10 minutes, I might’ve started whimpering. I definitely started laughing. Jack, of course, can just walk to the correct panel and put it right back on the wall. But then, he has 35 years of experience ...
Anyway, we’ve framed everything you can possibly imagine over the years. Works of art, family photos, family heirlooms, swords, toys, jerseys, tickets, medals ... Often, when people come in, they are bringing things that are dear to them, and expecting us to give it a proper display.
Seeing has how this is Memorial Day weekend, we thought we’d share the story behind one of our latest projects. I have been glib up until this point, but that comes to an end right now. There are certain kinds of stories that require appropriate amounts of respect, and the following is one of them.
The Shadow Box
Denise (and that’s all we’re calling her because, as you’ll hear later in the story, this is sort of a surprise for her husband) brought in a collection of memorabilia from World War II. There was a picture of a young solider in uniform, a unit patch, a handful of medals and commendations, and two corporal collar devices.
She laid all this on the counter in front of Jack, and then began to tell him the tale of Cpl. Wilbur Richard Jackson.
In late 1944, Jackson and his unit – the 811th Tank Destroyer battalion – were sent to Belgium where they participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Jackson and other members of the 811th were captured by the Germans on Christmas Eve. They remained captives until April 13, 1945.
“They were marched from camp to camp during the winter," says Denise. "A lot of them froze to death. They weren’t kept in a particular stalag because the Germans were using them as human shields for their troops.
“Every morning before the sun would come up, the Germans would come and pull one of the men out and would either beat him or shoot him. That would keep them submissive.
“One morning, he woke up because the sun was hitting him in the eyes, which never happened. By then, they’d usually already gone through the ritual. He and his fellow prisoners looked around and their captors were not there, and they heard tanks coming. The Germans had gone in the night.
“He was very, very sick. He almost died. He was 6’2”, and was right at about 100 pounds when they found him. He had tuberculosis,” she says.
Jackson recovered and lived to be 74 years old. He had a family, and Denise says a very happy life. But that’s not the whole story. While Cpl. Jackson was in the service, he wrote letters to a girl he had grown up with back home. The girl kept the letters in an album, and that album was eventually sold in an estate sale and bought by another woman in Illinois.
A few years ago, Denise joined ancestry.com and began researching her family tree and that of her husband. Not long after that …
“A lady contacted me, and asked me if I knew of a Wilbur R. Jackson who lived in Illinois during this particular time. She then told me, ‘I have something you’d be interested in.’”
It was the album of letters. There were 63 in total, and the woman shipped it to Denise for free.
“She said, ‘I would just love you to have these.’ I just burst into tears. I thought she was scamming me. It was too wild and wonderful to be true. But she shipped it to me. She boxed them up so carefully. Oh my gosh, they’ll break your heart to read. There’s this young boy who was excited. He kept talking about how he wanted to ‘go over.’ He talked about being on a ship, and how long it took them to reach Europe. He talked about how excited he was to see Germany at Christmas time … It just kills you to read it.”
It was the album that inspired Denise to have the shadow box created for her husband. Her plan is to give him the shadow box and the album for Father’s Day this year, and she means it to be a surprise. That’s been challenging because she and her husband spend all their time together, having retired a while ago. And it’s taken her some time to collect the specific commendations, medals and patches.
“It took me longer than I thought it would because I wanted it to be right,” she says. “I wanted it to be exactly what he would’ve gotten.”
She brought the memorabilia to Jack because she wants it to have a certain effect. She says Wilbur died when her husband was just 34 years old.
“You think you’re an adult at 34, but when you hit 61, you realize how young you really were to have lost a parent,” she says. “His father was very important to him, and he has no clue this stuff exists. Every year we have a big Father’s Day cookout. The girls told me that we have to give it to him in front of everyone because they want to see his reaction.
“I want it to be perfect,” she says. “I want it to take his breath away.”
Hopefully, we’ve helped Denise accomplish just that.
Thank you to Denise for sharing this story with us and allowing it us to feature it on our blog. And thank you to Cpl. Wilbur Richard Jackson and all the other veterans and current members of our Armed Services for your sacrifices.
Happy Memorial Day.