Slifer Wall Drawing

Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

The old adage, “Kids will be kids,” once again rings true with the recent discovery of a fragile work of art most likely executed by a child of Eli Slifer (1818-1888) and Catharine Motter Frick Slifer (1814-1886), at their stately residence in Lewisburg, Union Coun­ty, about 1870. Hidden in a third-floor closet of the Slifer House Museum for more than one hundred and twenty-five years, the drawing depicts what researchers believe to be a public building. The picture was drawn with watercolor and crayon directly on a plaster wall. One can imagine a Slifer youngster – whom researchers have not yet been identified – bored on a rainy day, crawling into the closet and making the sophisticated sketch, which includes curtains and tassels at each window and a steeple with inset clock and flagpole, upon which a soldier, wearing a uniform and plumed hat, balances precariously.

Not long after the drawing’s discovery, the museum assessed both its condition and location. Not only did it face an exterior wall, which was damp and crumbling, but significant cracks and fissures also threatened it. To ensure its preservation, museum officials decided to remove and conserve it. Funding from the Edna M. Sheary Charitable Trust, Lewisburg, enabled an independent conservator to develop a plan to painstakingly excise the artwork from the closet, stabilize and conserve it, and safely return it to the museum. This process included affixing a temporary backing and an acrylic facing over the artwork as the entire wall was cut away from the closet. An acrylic resin was applied to both the face and reverse surfaces, and a honeycomb backing was added for support. The picture was returned a year later to the museum, where it was unveiled in December 2001.

In addition to serving as Secretary of the Commonwealth during the Civil War, Colonel Eli Slifer also won elections as state representative, senator, and trea­surer. He was a successful businessman, first in the construction of canal boats and, later, in the manufacture of farm equipment and machinery. He was a founder of financial institutions, a railroad, and a gas company in Lewisburg. Designed by eminent Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan (1815-1884), the Slifer family’s twenty-one room Tuscan Villa-style country estate, originally called Delta Place, was erected 1860-1862 at a cost of eight thousand dollars. So noteworthy was Sloan’s design that Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular nineteenth-century periodical, featured the house’s façade and floor plans in its October 1862 edition.

The residence was eventually converted to a senior citizen facility. When new facilities were constructed, the house faced demolition, but a group of history­-minded citizens saved the house, which opened as a house museum in 1976. The museum is owned and administered by Albright Care Services, which also oper­ates Riverwoods, a retirement facility located on the grounds.

For additional information, including visiting hours, write: Slifer House Muse­um, 1 River Rd., Lewisburg, PA 17837; telephone (570) 524-2245.


The editor thanks Gary W. Parks, director of the Slifer House Museum, for sharing news of the exciting discovery with readers of Pennsylvania Heritage.