A donation of some of a 19th-century local artist’s work and a very old typewriter to the Crawford County Historical Society has President Josh Sherretts and the board excited.
The donation of four of Austa Densmore Sturdevant’s paintings and an original Densmore typewriter was made by Arthur Martin of Portland, Oregon. Martin is the widower of Priscilla Densmore Martin, Austa’s great-niece. Sturdevant, 1855-1936, was an artist born in Blooming Valley who later attended Allegheny College and was one of the first women to graduate with a bachelor of arts degree.
“He’s really trying to make sure the items will be taken care of for future generations to enjoy,” Sherretts said.
“The basic pitch is he wanted them to come home,” said Judith Stoll, historical society board member. “There’s a certain sense he felt about them coming back here, he felt putting them in our hands was putting them in good hands.”
The collection of Sturdevant’s art, an architectural rendering of her girlhood home in Meadville, and the real prize — the Densmore typewriter — arrived recently at the historical society’s office, 411 Chestnut St.
The typewriter was an excellent addition to the collection because Austa’s father, Amos, was famous for helping with the development of the first QWERTY typewriter as well as the railroad tanker car.
As far as Sherretts is aware, there are only two existing Densmore typewriters — one in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and the one the historical society received. There may be some existing in private collections, however.
“When we opened the crates it was like Christmas morning and receiving far more than you expected,” Stoll said.
The original Sturdevant artworks included in the donation were The Glassblower’s Daughter (1895), Mathew Gunten (1905), Amos Densmore (1893) and an undated portrait of Amos. Gunten was a Densmore family relative and is buried with the family in Blooming Valley, according to Stoll.
“They’re pretty special,” she said.
Austa married James Sturdevant, who served as superintendent of Crawford County schools. The couple moved to New York City, and she later studied art in Paris for three years, devoting her life to the arts. Sturdevant later lived in Cragsmoor, New York, from the late 1880s until she died in 1936.
In 2014, the historical society acquired a collection which included some of Sturdevant’s furniture including 1880s-era dressers, a desk, wardrobes and other small items. These items were purchased from a woman in Arkansas who had been a friend of Sturdevant’s granddaughter and had received the items when the granddaughter entered a nursing home in the 1980s. This furniture became the centerpiece for the Sturdevant/Dent Room in the Baldwin-Reynolds House Museum on Terrace Street.
The room was named for Sturdevant and in honor of Claire Dent, whose donation made the purchase of Sturdevant’s furniture possible. Dent passed away recently, on Feb. 6.
The short-term plan is for the artifacts to go into the Sturdevant/Dent Room at the museum, according to Sherretts, who said the value of the collection is unknown until the historical society can get it appraised for insurance purposes.
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