Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bella's in the Garage, Again

Isabella Johnson Kloepfer (1865-1891)

Bella has had many homes over the years. Unfortunately, for lack of a decent wall space in my house, she is currently housed in my garage. Prior to the my garage, she resided in my sister's garage for twelve years and a storage garage for eight years.

Isabella or Bella was my mother's paternal grandmother, who died long before my mother was born. When my mother was alive and living in her own home, Bella's portrait and a large oil painting of Bella's father, William Johnson, hung on the wall in the family room.

Born 22 August 1865 in Upnor (Frindsbury Parish), Kent, England to Lt. William Johnson and Mary Ann Hammond, Bella lived in Upnor during her childhood.

Bella's father William was a Royal Marine serving in the 93rd Company aboard the H.M.S. Trafalgar and later aboard the H.M.S. Cumberland. Unfortunately, William had a weak heart and died at the age of thirty, when Bella was only two and her baby brother was not yet born.

Bella, her brother William, and their mother "Annie" lived in Upnor with Annie's widowed father Robert Hammond, who was a waterman or boatman on the Medway Canal like his father before him. Robert later became a coal merchant and lived to the ripe old age of eighty-four.

Bella's mother Annie, widowed at the tender age of twenty-five, remarried in 1873 to James Murphy, an Irishman who worked for the Navy. The Murphy's went on to have five children, four boys and one daughter, who were Bella's half-siblings.

Because of Lt. William Johnson's service for the British government, Bella and her brother William were provided a quality education. At the age of fifteen in 1881, Bella was boarding at the Sailors' Orphans Girls School in St. Johns Hampstead, London. Two years later, she immigrated from Liverpool to New York City aboard the ship S. S. Nevada.

Bella's paternal grandmother Charlotte Budd Johnson immigrated to America in 1868, along with several of Bella's uncles and aunts. They were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and settled in Ogden, Utah.

When she was finished with her schooling, Joseph T. Johnson, Bella's uncle, wrote to her in London and encouraged her to immigrate to Ogden where she might easily find a job as a governess, which she did.

While working as a governess in Ogden, Utah, Bella met her future husband, a German immigrant, Philip Kloepfer, who was a stone mason. Philip travelled throughout Utah, Idaho and Montana, wherever building work was available. He wrote Bella sweet love letters from Butte, Montana, Logan, Utah and Blackfoot, Idaho, until she finally agreed to marry him.

They married in January 1887 and my grandfather Frank was born in November the same year. Two years later grandpa's younger brother Bill was born. In 1891, Bella was expecting a baby girl when she contracted scarlet fever and died after giving birth to the baby. The baby (Isabella) also died. They were both buried the same day in the same casket, because of the fear of spreading the fever.

Most of Bella's belongings were burned (again out of fear) and the only things to survive were the love letters and the portrait, a charcoal drawing from a photograph. Unfortunately, the paper has a good deal of foxing from moisture and mildew.

After Philip Kloepfer remarried the portrait of Bella was relegated to the damp cellar of their farm in Nampa, Idaho. There Bella stayed until Philip's death in 1940 when she moved to my grandpa's cellar in Boise until he died in 1969. She then moved to my mom's wall in Holladay, Utah, where she was happily displayed next to her father from 1969 to 1991 when mom's house was sold.

My question is this: Is it disrespectful to keep a portrait of a beloved ancestor in the garage? And, what do you do with a large portrait when there's no place to display it?


kenju said...

I don't know about it being disrespectful, but I would worry about the condition of it in a garage that isn't heated and is subject to extremes of humidity. It might be better to give it to someone who has room for it in the house.

Miriam said...

It's not so much a matter of disrespect, but of preservation. Garages may have mice and insects (that like to eat paper), and there's always a chance that the portrait could get damaged while someone is moving things around. Also, unless your garage is climate controlled, the extremes of temperature, both heat and cold, are harmful to both the portraits and the frames.

My suggestion is that if you do not have a place to display it in your home, wrap it in a sheet to keep out dust (never use plastic or newspaper) and put it in a closet or behind a dresser in your bedroom. Even placing it under a bed would be better than the garage. Do not store it in the attic or the basement, as these places also tend to have pests, moisture, and temperature extremes.

Another good idea, just in case something happens to it or your home, is to take a photograph of it and make sure copies are distributed among family members. That way, at least a copy of the portrait will survive, should the unthinkable happen.

Olive's Granddaughter said...

Kenju and Miriam-- I agree with you both. Bella is moving inside. I will wrap her in a sheet and put her behind a dresser. We have 3 cats and a dog, all who like to go under beds!

Miriam-- Since this was the only portrait of Bella, photographs were made many years ago and circulated among family members.

Thanks for the ideas and for visiting my blog.

Travelin'Oma said...

I love the idea of taking pictures of the portrait and distributing them. The fact that you are remembering this woman and reminding others about her contribution to the world is a high form of showing respect. Preserve the painting, but don't feel guilty that it's not hanging front and center.

Jillybean said...

Hi, you don't know me but I happen to be assisting in some research on Charlotte Budd Johnson for an LDS church historian. Do you happen to have a photo of her per chance? I know there is one in the book "William, Benjamin, and Joseph Thomas Johnson 3 June 1774-9 Oct 1934" by Wayne Rollins Hansen, but I have yet to be able to view that book myself. Your site came up in google so I thought I would ask.