Lower Burrell woman finds grandmother's 1940 wedding collage in antiques shop
Regina Seidel and her brothers used to ask their devout Catholic grandmother to send them a sign from the other side after she died, to let them know if there is an afterlife.
After 11 years, they got that sign — in an antiques shop in Lower Burrell.
Seidel typically heads straight home after her job working for the City of Lower Burrell.
But one day in March, she decided on a whim to stop at This & That Resale Shop on her way home. One of her co-workers, city treasurer Brian Eshbaugh, had recently opened the shop with his wife, Tammy.
Seidel walked into one of the showrooms and shrieked.
“Where did you get that? Those are my grandparents,” she yelled.
Tammy Eshbaugh rushed to see what Seidel was talking about. She found Seidel gaping at an antique wedding portrait that had arrived in the store just two days earlier to be sold on consignment.
“I thought she was kidding me — you don't walk into a store and see your grandparents' wedding portrait,” Eshbaugh says.
But Seidel knew the picture well — she saw it every time she, as a child, visited her great-grandmother Julia Szuch's home in the Georgetown area of Gilpin. The picture hung above Szuch's sofa for 40 years, until her death in 1982. Seidel was just 10 years old at the time.
“I called my mother from the shop and said, ‘You're not going to believe what I'm holding in my hands,'” Seidel says.
Seidel's mother, Carol DePaoli of Lower Burrell, couldn't believe what her daughter was saying.
Seidel immediately purchased the portrait.
Julia Szuch had the portrait made around 1940. It is a composite of her three children and their spouses on their wedding days. Steve “Peaches” Szuch married Ethel Laslow on Oct. 30, 1933. Grace Szuch married Sam Grande on Feb. 1, 1937. And Seidel's grandmother, Ethel Szuch, married Primo Livrone on Sept. 24, 1938.
The black-and-white images of the couples are against a background of blue arches. The portrait has a painted finish on canvas, and is in its original, ornately carved frame.
After Szuch died, the portrait was passed to her son, Steve. After he and his wife died, the portrait was inadvertently sold at an estate sale six years ago.
Each of Julia Szuch's eight grandchildren thought another grandchild had kept the portrait.
Irene Kepple, owner of End of the Road Antiques in Vandergrift, had bought the portrait at the estate sale for her former store, Christy Flats Antiques in Ford City.
“I had a customer who collected antique wedding portraits, so I bought it with her in mind,” Kepple says.
But before Kepple could call that customer, wedding photographer Carol Armstrong came into the antiques store.
“That portrait just caught my eye,” she says.
It's unusual to find a composite picture that is over 70 years old, and it would've been relatively expensive to create, Armstrong says.
She bought the portrait to display in her Allegheny Township studio.
She recently decided to change her decor a bit and gathered some items — including the portrait — to take to This & That Resale Shop to sell.
“I thought someone might want to buy it for its frame,” Armstrong says.
After she bought the portrait, Seidel posted pictures of it on her Facebook page.
“A lot of my friends commented that they actually looked at it in the shop, without realizing, of course, that it was my grandparents,” she says. “If I hadn't stopped at the shop that day, if I would've waited until the weekend to stop in, it could've been sold to someone else.”
Seidel and DePaoli were quick to notify their extended family about finding the portrait, which nobody realized was missing in the first place.
“My cousin in Ohio cried for days; she was so happy it was found,” DePaoli says. “Now that it is home, my family has not stopped talking about it.”
Grace Grande, the only surviving person in the portrait, lives in the Cleveland area.
She turned 99 years old April 1. Seidel and DePaoli say getting the wedding portrait back in the family is a great birthday present.
The portrait sits above the loveseat in Seidel's Lower Burrell living room. She hasn't decided yet where she will display it permanently, but would like to hang it with the large wedding portrait of her grandparents Primo and Ethel Livrone — with the same blue arch background that was used in the composite.
Seidel also has a portrait of her great-grandmother Julia Szuch, as a 15-year-old bride, on her wedding day with her husband, Paul.
Seidel's family will keep the portraits in the family for at least one more generation — her 7-year-old daughter, Bella, has already claimed the wedding portrait as hers.
Jill Henry Szish is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.