Toy Box owners uncover arches, mural

December 16, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Those present for the Toy Box Catering open house Saturday saw a layout that was different from last year's. A mural extended along the eastern wall, and two brick arches separated the eastern and western rooms.

Mimi Becker, who owns the business with husband Steve, said her mother bought the buildings years ago and operated Toy Box Deli on the eastern side for many years. After the deli closed, Toy Box Catering continued. The buildings were not used to their fullest extents because there was no opening between them, she said.

The catering business has grown over the years, and the Beckers discussed expanding the size of the building. They called in an architect to look at the dividing wall, then brought in a a contractor, who found there were hollow spots.

"We thought it was at least a doorway," Becker said. "Just one. And that would give a connector."


A crew of people came in to tear through the hollow part of the wall, including Paul Muth, who displayed and sold his pottery at Saturday's open house. They found the first hollow spot was bigger than a doorway.

"As they knocked it down, they felt another space," Becker said. "We thought it was square across ... but then we saw the arches."

Now uncovered, the two arches feature the original wood.

"An archaeologist looked at them and said the wood was there probably because one side or the other was for storage," Becker said. "The wood was there to protect the brick."

Extensive research on the buildings has been done

Becker did extensive research on the buildings and found that they were owned by one person in the mid-19th century.

"The 1846 property transfer is the oldest one I found," Becker said. "But I don't know if it was for the building or just the property."

She thought the man who built Craik House on the Centre College campus owned the buildings for a number of years.

"For sure, in 1890, the side with the mural was sold to a separate person. That was when, I feel certain, they closed up the arches."

No new brick has been added to the arches, Becker said, although brick masons were bought in to restore some of the existing bricks.

"We chose to leave it as rough as it is. ... The arches are in good shape. One side of the center post needed some sticking back in."

Becker said they hope there is one more arch, and they might explore the wall south of the arches in search of one.

"It's incredibly messy to do," she said. "We have to shut down, and we're not in a position to do that. We'll have to wait and see. But I would love to have the brick exposed."

She thinks the eastern side of the eastern room might have window openings that are covered up, but The Presbyterian Church has offices on the other side of the wall, and they don't want to damage those offices.

Gordon did the mural

Becker said the mural was done by John Randolf Gordon. Painted in soft green and yellow, primarily it depicts horses and foals. Neal Gordon of Coldwell Banker VIP Realty Inc. knew about the mural, and the Beckers would occasionally try to find it as they renovated the buildings. When the arches were torn through, green and yellow brush strokes were seen on the western wall of the eastern room, but the mural was severely damaged, Becker said. "There was no way to salvage it."

But Gordon said he thought the other wall had a mural, too, so the Beckers and Co. started stripping wallpaper and paint. Ultimately, they found the mural on the eastern wall, under several layers of wallpaper and paint.

"We stripped it with Downy and hot water," Becker said. "And elbow grease. It really works."

That mural, which was painted in 1956, suffered minimal damage. So the work started in May wrapped up with the unveiling of the mural in August. The arches are an ongoing project, Becker said.

And Becker offered an interesting tidbit: John Randolf Gordon and local visual artist Sheldon Tapley had the same agent in New York.

As for the open house, the Beckers held a similar event in 2003, with Muth and his pottery and Paul Sirimongkhon exhibiting and selling his paintings. This year, they added Advocate-Messenger chief photographer Clay Jackson to the roster of artists. Jackson works both in photography and acrylics, and Saturday marked his first art exhibition locally, although he participated in the Arts Commission's Gallery Hop in November.

"I did stuff in college," Jackson explained. "But I've been stuck in the photography realm."

He says he likes acrylics because he's impatient, and they dry faster than oils. "Steps," a painting in the exhibition, had an intriguing style to it.

"I like a lot of thick colors," Jackson explained as he looked at the painting. "I'm graphic-oriented, which shows in my photography."

Influenced by Rothko

He said he considers 1950s abstract painter Mark Rothko to be an influence.

"He used a lot of thick colors, and his work is bold and graphic," Jackson said. "That's what I've been trying to go to - color-filled painting."

Another painting, "City Scape," also features strong colors, with overlapping blocks of them. "If you look at it closely, you can see the layers of color," Jackson explained.

The photographs he displayed were taken with a plastic, toy camera. It's a point-and-shoot camera, Jackson said, and is quite basic, which appeals to him.

"It's unlike what I do for a living," he said.

"It's a toy camera with a Polaroid back - it creates a cool, neat, interesting border. That adds to the photograph. Some of the edges are blurred, which is a defect of the camera, but that appeals to me."

Jackson said he would like to move on to bigger canvasses, but he'll continue painting, regardless.

"I really like painting because it's relaxing," he explained. "It helps me get away and rejuvenate myself and do something different from my normal routine."

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