At the end of October I had the opportunity to take a trip to Ashland, PA for the first time. It was a beautiful fall day, near the peak of the fall foliage season, and the drive up I-81 from Harrisburg afforded me great views of the nearby mountains. The purpose of the trip was to visit the Mother’s Memorial that I had featured in a blog around Mother’s Day of 2013.
That blog had come up in an online search for information related to Emil Siebern, the designer of the Mother’s Memorial. The researcher was Siebern’s great niece, Judy Scheer. Judy contacted me to see if I had additional information on her artist great uncle. The historic photographs featured in the blog were provided to me by the nominator for the Ashland Boys’ Association (A.B.A.) marker. That organization had raised the funds to erect the memorial. I contacted the nominator, Adam Bernodin of Ashland, and asked if I could provide Judy with his contact information. He enthusiastically agreed. Over the course of several weeks we were involved in a three way correspondence that resulted in plans to meet at the memorial.
Judy lives in Warrington, PA, but she and her sister Elizabeth McShane and their 87-year-old mother Alma Siebern Puglia set off on their 2-hour journey, excited to see their relative’s work of art for the first time. They met Adam and I, representatives from the local newspaper, Ashland’s mayor, and Ashland Area Historic Preservation Society member, Jim Klock at the foot of the impressive monument. Even Alma gamely braved the steep steps up to the landing where the sculpture was mounted. One of the most exciting things about the day, in addition to witnessing Alma being able to experience the memorial for the first time, was the exchange of information. Adam had a historic photograph of two men that he and other Ashland residents presumed were the designer and sculptor, but they weren’t sure which was which. Judy had photographs of her uncle Emil that confirmed his identity and that of sculptor, Julius Loester. Adam presented a copy of this and a few other photos to Alma for her records. The family historian and a student of Historic Preservation, Judy has done extensive research on Emil Siebern. She was able to provide Adam with information on Siebern’s body of work to supplement the material in the Society’s A.B.A. collection. She had been in contact with representatives at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Gallery in Washington, DC. Several Siebern works are in their collection. Alma reminisced about her uncle, who she saw occasionally as a child. She remembered how she and other family members were very impressed with the size and strength of his hands. Judy offered that while he was alive, the family thought of him as rather eccentric. Not an uncommon sentiment at the time, making a living creating art was considered a bit odd – not “practical work.” Now, many of his descendants take great pride in his talent and the art he produced, much of which is on public display.
Adam’s historic photographs of the Mother’s Memorial installation and dedication were given to him by Barbara Sage, the daughter of the photographer, a lifelong member of the Ashland Boys’ Association. Amazingly, the photographer, now deceased, was a local resident who witnessed the events and shot the photos when he was 14 years old! He did a great job of photodocumentation, and created some of the only visual evidence of the involved installation effort known to exist.
Following the viewing of the memorial and the exchange of information, Jim Klock gave us a tour of the Ashland Area Historic Preservation Society museum. The museum contains extensive collections of Ashland historical information, including an entire room dedicated to A.B.A. archival material and memorabilia. Included in the collection is the original model of the Mother’s Memorial created by the artists and submitted to the A.B.A. for approval. Also on display are replica bookends that were produced as fundraisers for the memorial and commemorative coins given to donors as tokens of appreciation.
All in all it was a wonderful day from which all benefitted. The local paper featured the story on the front page the next day. I was honored that I was able to participate, meet the people involved, and learn a little bit more about the A.B.A. and the Mother’s Memorial in Ashland, single threads in the great tapestry of Pennsylvania history.