Saturday, December 13, 2014

More about Grandma Vera

Last time out I published some pictures I recently rediscovered in an old album of my mother’s, showing our Blackwell grandparents on their wedding day. Along with those pictures was a contact sheet from an undated studio portrait session with Vera as a young teenager. She looks ravishing, with tumbling golden hair. When our cousin Jeremy Lillies in England saw that post, he wrote to remind me that he had earlier sent an even older picture of Vera, with sister Madge, as very young children. Here it is.

The picture, a newspaper clipping, is annotated, “From the Sketch.” It’s dated “January 16 [18]94,” which would make Vera, the child on the left, according to the handwritten annotations, only three years old. She looks older to me.  Her gaze speaks of a keen awareness of her own beauty. The Sketch, I’m assuming, is a long-defunct local newspaper. I can find no trace of it online. 

The image was in remarkably good condition in general, requiring relatively little clean-up. But it is a halftone, composed of quite visible dots of ink. This was the standard way of reproducing monochrome photographs in newspapers right up until fairly recent times. With some Photoshop magic, I’ve managed to make it look a little more like a conventional photograph.

The picture comes from a scrapbook kept by Jeremy’s brother Tim (our cousin too, I suppose). The scrapbook apparently includes mostly clippings about our theatrical great great Lillies uncles. (I wrote about them here.) But Jeremy also found the picture of the little girls and pages from the program for an invitation-only Pupils’ Concert by students of a piano teacher named Miss Frances Osborne. Here they are.

The concert was held in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, where the Lillies lived, in 1900, at Glen’s Concert Hall on Collins Street. It featured three of the Lillies children, including our grandmother, who would by then have been nine. She and sister Madge played a duet, “A Sleigh Ride” by Loetz.  (Paul de Loetz was the nom de plume of  George Walter Lloyds, pianist, conductor and composer, and founder of an illustrious Australian musical family. His descendants are still making music professionally today.) The full title of the piece, on a theme that must have seemed alien to the little Lillies girls, was “Intermezzo, descriptive of a sleigh ride on the road to Moscow.”

While on the subject of grandma Vera, and jumping ahead several decades, I will also pass on a few brief reminiscences of her from Australian relatives. In an email to Jeremy, our cousin Andrew Lillies (b.1949) who lives near Melbourne, wrote, “She was our Aunt (or Auntie) Vee whom I met when I was very small.  All I remember is that she was very deaf, and used a hearing trumpet which we all used to have to shout in to.  But she only picked up a few words so profound was her deafness.” Rob Blackwell also mainly remembers the ear trumpet. 

Strange and sad to think of that beautiful little piano player, a half a century later, as an old woman with an ear trumpet! She wasn't the only musician who went deaf, though.

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