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"The Village Witch"
by Dennis and Donna Corrigan
One of many rewards of the business of buying and restoring derelict historic buildings is the occasional discovery of artifacts left behind by former residents. Typical finds include old bottles, vintage clothing and books and photographs of long forgotten relatives. Occasionally, one comes across a real treasure. This happened during the restoration of an early 19th century post-and-beam house in a remote village in the Northeastern Pennsylvania, where, stashed under numerous moldy boxes of antique books, fabric scraps and furniture fragments, we discovered a leather-hinged wooden box overflowing with seemingly worthless note paper. Closer examination revealed the significance of our discovery: the box contained more than 800 drawings.
The house had been unoccupied for nearly fifty years. The last occupant had lived there without running water, plumbing, or central heating. These works of art compelled us to find out more; we began researching the history of the building and its former residents.
After numerous interviews with local villagers, we discovered that Pearl Blauvelt, still referred to by some residents as the 'Village Witch', had occupied the house from the early part of the 20th century until the 1950's, when she was declared incompetent and moved to a nearby assisted-living facility where she resided until her death in the 1970's. Most of the longtime residents knew little about her, however, as the Blauvelt family was not notable in the region, and Pearl seldom appeared in public. We were fortunate to find an elderly local resident who, as a child in the 1920's, had befriended her. She laughingly recalled a day when Pearl, then in her thirties, had inexplicably rolled a large rock into the living room of the house where she and other children were playing.
The contents of the buried box were chronicles of Pearl Blauvelt's private life, her obsessive, expressive drawings furiously rendered in colored pencils, revealing innocent Victorian memories of a woman who, by all accounts, was an outsider. Through those drawings, we can relive Blauvelt's daily experiences in New York and Pennsylvania and witness the births, deaths, and other activities of her everyday life.
Several of the drawings were laced together with shoestrings in primitive book form. Others are contained in dime-store notepads and old school composition books. Many images were drawn on brown paper bags or other loose scraps of paper. One of the notebooks revealed Blauvelt's fascination with currency: numerous pieces of cut paper feverishly rendered on both sides depict American, Canadian and Confederate bills in fantasy denominations of $30, $125, etc., and were stuffed inside a notebook containing other uncut examples.
Some of Blauvelt's more interesting interpretations were copied from old Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues which we also found in the building. She had faithfully recorded contemporary fashions and accessories, product packaging, furniture, rugs and fabric designs, and included full descriptions. She also drew objects from life, frequently giving them misspelled titles, such as "Cubbard", "Deraniums", and "Pasturised Milk".