Saturday, April 4, 2009


Last week we visited Noel Sickles' Chillicothe. One of the major reasons I made the trip was based on this paragraph by author Bruce Canwell in Scorchy Smith & the Art of Noel Sickles:
"...members of his 1929 graduating class were in touch with [Sickles] about a plan to present one of his originals to Chillicothe High School. Sickles agreed to provide the H.S. Hope piece he had drawn for the July 27, 1959 cover of Life...they would mount and frame the work and present it to the High School as a combined gift from Sickles and the Class of 1929."

I was intrigued. Would the high school still have this painting almost 40 years after it had been donated? How big was the painting itself, and was it displayed prominently? Would anybody there know what it was or that they had this renowned alumnus? Itching in the back of my mind was also the daydream that the painting was forgotten and stored away, but some janitor who knew where it was might sell it to me out the back door of the school.

The school was my first stop in Chillicothe. With me was my son, Noah (then 14 months old), a camera, and a copy of the Life Magazine cover. I went to the front desk to give my prepared spiel about how I was looking for this painting that was done by Noel Sickles, a famous artist and Chillicothe grad, and that the painting had been donated to the school in the early 1970s. The woman at the front desk didn't know, but she took my picture and went into the office of Mr. Payne, the principal. Payne came out of his office. He'd never seen it, and explained it might be hard to find since the entire building had been gutted and rebuilt within the past decade. He took it to the Vice-Principal. She thought she recognized it as being in the Guidance office before the remodeling. Mr. Payne, though he was busy and running behind, walked me across the hall to the Guidance Department. The woman there thought she recognized it from being in Lorene Washington’s office. However, Lorene was retired and may have taken it with her. My eyes widened. "But wait," she said, "Lorene runs a store called ‘Lorene’s House of Everything’ on Main Street"

Mr. Payne gives me directions. My heart sings a little bit. From the store name, I envision a junk shop, with this Sickles painting on a wall amid Goodwill-esque clutter. Noah and I rush over to Main Street. I don’t see ‘Lorene’s House of Everything’, but I do see ‘LS Everything in Sports’. Is that it? I don't see anything more promising, so we go inside. A woman of about 50 is sitting in a chair amidst sports memorabilia. I give her my story and show her the picture. It not only wasn't in her office, she’s never seen it in her life. I’m crestfallen, but I talk to her for about 15 minutes trying to eke out any clues. Noah is curious and silent. She tells me about other kinds of paintings she had in her office. “But I didn’t have no ship,” she says. Then she starts to think of who might know. "You know who would know? Mr. Bolivant, he was head of the art department...but he dead. He left a lot of art and stuff behind, but I'm sorry to say, honey,a lot of that got thrown out!"

Yikes! Was this it? No more leads and the possibility that the painting was in the deep strata of the local landfill. "But wait," Lorene says, "you know who might know is his successor, Nancy Grey...but she's also retired." I ask Lorene if she has a phone book. Lorene looks it up, but there’s no Nancy, only an N F Grey. I write down the number, thank Lorene and leave. In the parking lot, I call the number. At first, a machine picks up, then, a weathered voice answers. It’s indeed Nancy Grey, former art teacher at Chillicothe High School. I explain again about Sickles and the painting. She does remember the painting! Only as she recalls it, it's in the library. I have no choice. Noah and I return to the school.

I'm back at the front desk. I explain that I’ve seen Lorene and spoken with Nancy Grey, who thinks the painting is in the library. “May I please go to the library,” I ask. Another staff member is there and she agrees to escort me to the library. On the walk there through long hallways, she asks me about what I’m looking for, so I tell her my story and what led up to my return visit. We enter the library and walk towards the desk. The librarian is an older woman, which gives me hope that she’s been there awhile and may know. I show her the picture. She hasn’t seen it, but walks me into the library office where three women are working. I show them the picture, but none have seen it. “But you know who might know?” one said. And they name a librarian recently retired. They don’t have her phone number, but do know she volunteers with the Chillicothe Historical Society. I have the Society’s address, so I started thinking of that as my next move. The staff member who escorted me asks me where I parked and decides to take me on an easier route to my car. We had entered the library in a side entrance, but now she was taking me out via the main entrance. As we’re walking out of the main entrance to the library, she looks to her left and says, “Is that it?” Click here to find out!


Jim said...

Great story Matt! Too funny. Btw, that is a Piasecki HUP Retriever taking off from the carrier.

Caroline said...

Hi Matt! I'm here via Heidi at The Beat. I'm a 2004 graduate of Chillicothe High School and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had never heard of Noel Sickles prior to reading your post, much less aware that he was from Chillicothe. I probably saw that painting everyday at school and never knew its siginificance. So, thank you for your visit and these posts! I'll definitely be taking a trip up to Grandview soon to check out Sickles' grave. Also, my mother is the head librarian at the Carnegie you visited and I'm sure she'll appreciate your post as well. Thanks again!

austinspace said...

I'm here via The Beat, too. This is a great story and I'm relieved it has a happy ending. You are to be commended for doing all the leg work. Thank you!

WCG Comics said...

Wonderful story--I'm relieved to know the painting survived and remains displayed, though no one seems to remember its significance. Do you recall what the plaque says on the piece?

BTW, I don't know if you are familiar with my work (, but my initial inspiration was Milton Caniff, and I work on a series that attempts to be a modern-day version of those classic adventure strips.

I will be following your blog regularly!