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Photos take Long journey to area

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture writer

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Seattle artist Amy Pleasant (right) meets with 88-year old Harold Long to find information on a box of photos she found and has used for inspiration for her artwork. They gathered at the home of Richard Long, Harold's nephew, on Thursday, Dec.. 13, 2012, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)
ON THE WEB

It’s kind of a Long story.

It’s a family story, a lost and found story, and a getting together story, all rolled into one — just in time for the holidays.

We began by looking for the Coolidges; we ended up discovering the Longs. How we came to find them is a story in itself.

It began with a letter from Amy Pleasant, a Seattle, Wash., artist who two years ago received a box of photographs and other memorabilia.

Pleasant’s work explores memory and generational transition. She often uses family photos as source material for her paintings. She began working in this manner after inheriting a family photo album, from which she completed a series of paintings that explored the transitions made from one generation to the next.

She became so interested in the subject that she began to collect discarded vintage photos at thrift stores, leading to the question, “What becomes of us when there is no one left to remember?” The resulting series was shown in the Seattle exhibit Lost and Found.

Shortly after she finished that series, a stranger who knew of her work offered her a box of more than 200 photographs she had found cleaning out her great-aunt’s house. She didn’t recognize anyone in the photos, and thought perhaps Pleasant could use them.

Pleasant spent hours poring over the images. She realized they weren’t just random snaps, but contained the artifacts of one couple’s lifetime together.

Using notes on the backs of the images, pharmacy receipts that were in the box, and the Internet, Pleasant identified them as the Coolidge family of Cuyahoga Falls, taken from the couple’s childhood through the birth of their first grandchild, mostly from the 1930s through the 1950s. The most recent photo was a school picture from the 1970s.

From these, she did a series of paintings, including two large works depicting the couple’s wedding day and a later anniversary, as metaphoric “bookends” for the series, which she called Looking for the Coolidges and exhibited last summer in Seattle.

She continued to look for Coolidge descendants, and wrote to newspapers asking for help. She wanted to return the photographs to the family, and hoped that a story might help her locate them.

“Some of the photos are of downtown Akron in the ’50s, the Goodyear blimp building and the Soap Box Derby. They are pretty interesting,” she wrote.

Pleasant also provided two helpful links: to her paintings made from the Coolidge archive (http://amypleasantseattle.com/section/316363_LOOKING_FOR_THE_COOLIDGES.html), and to a video she had made, including many of the black-and-white images from the box of 200.

An editor spotted the house number 2717 among the photos, and in a 1956-1957 city directory found a Ronald K. Coolidge at 2717 Oak Park Boulevard, Cuyahoga Falls. Further research in the newspaper’s electronic and paper records turned up a 1990 obituary for Mabel I. Coolidge, Ronald’s wife.

She had been married twice, first to Walter W. Long until his death in 1955, then to Ronald K. Coolidge and had survived them both.

Her sons, Harold and Lloyd, had kept their father’s last name, Long. Lloyd Long died in August, and coincidentally, he had worked for the Beacon Journal for 20 years as a retail ad salesman. He was a World War II veteran having served with the U.S. Army, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, for which he received a Purple Heart. He had also been a Soap Box Derby official.

People behind the photos

Harold Long lives in Avon Lake, and he agreed to meet with Pleasant at the home of his nephew, Richard, Lloyd Long’s son, in Cuyahoga Falls.

The two men have each had a difficult year, with family losses on both sides.

Pleasant had endured her own losses — her mother, an aunt and a close friend in the past year. Born in Canton, Pleasant had been shuttling back and forth from Seattle all summer to see her mother, who had cancer.

In September, the same week that Lloyd Long died, her mother passed away.

“I felt like they are both still in the midst of their grief,” she wrote of Harold and Richard in a later email. “I actually thought it was a good thing that they were together,” to receive the box of photographs.

Pleasant had two mysteries that she wanted to solve when she arrived at Richard’s house: Who took the pictures, and how did they get from Cuyahoga Falls to Seattle?

After looking at the images and identifying many of the people captured on film, Harold and Richard agreed that the person who took the pictures had to have been Frances Coolidge, Ronald Coolidge’s first wife.

“In my family my dad took the pictures,” said Richard. “So maybe in her family she took the pictures, and when she died, they stopped. She died in 1955.”

Ronald and Frances were the couple whose lives were chronicled in the photos.

They figured the photographs found their way to Seattle through June (Coolidge) Miller, Ronald’s daughter, who moved to La Grande, Ore., where she was a teacher. The Longs called her “Aunt June.”

Harold’s mother was also a teacher. Richard said, “She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Indiana, and the oldest students there were only a couple of years younger than she was.

Long survivors

Harold Long, as it turns out, is a fairly remarkable person. Along with several other chemical engineers, he was recruited by the government during World War II to work on the atom bomb.

“Were you there, Uncle Harold?” Richard asked. “Were you there to witness the bomb?”

“We were all sleeping soundly when they did that,” smiled Harold, who will turn 89 this month.

Pleasant had prepared three round hatboxes that were meant to represent a family tree. She had used them at the Looking for the Coolidges exhibit to contain the images used to make the 24 paintings in her show.

She filled the largest of those hatboxes with all the family images and left them with Harold and Richard to share or divide as they wished.

Pleasant’s visit, as it turned out, was a rare opportunity for the two men to exchange family stories and have a smile and a laugh or two.

Pleasant and her sister, Nanette Taillard, who also attended the meeting, were quite happy that the mystery of the Coolidges was finally solved.

Even though it turned out to be the story of the Longs.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.