Bicentennial celebration: You can display your piece of Belleville history

News-DemocratJanuary 22, 2014 

Henry Christian must have really loved checkers.

The Belleville carpenter made his board out of inlaid oak and walnut with mother-of-pearl accents. The matching wooden box has a drawer for game pieces.

"I assume that it (dates back to) around 1900," said Marcia Mellone, 76, of Belleville, Christian's great-granddaughter.

She inherited the antique set from her grandmother, Eme Schroeder, in the '70s.

It's one of 200 items that will be displayed July 3 through Aug. 15 at Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College as part of Belleville's bicentennial celebration.

Organizers still are looking for people willing to loan artifacts, photos or documents that could help tell the city's story. The exhibit will be called "Belleville Bicentennial Exhibition: 200."

"We're not looking for the first or the best or anything like that," said committee member Judy Belleville. "We just want to see what people are proud of, what they would like to share with the community."

Mellone is proud of her great-grandfather's craftsmanship. His family operated West End Lumber in Belleville, beginning in 1870.

Christian put another game on the back of his checkers board. Mellone learned about it from an elderly German man in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

"It has two names: 'The Mill' and 'Nine Men's Morris,'" she said. "I had never heard of it before."

Two 1900 buttons connect the game set to local and national history. Christian used one from the Belleville Street Fair and one from William McKinley's presidential campaign as drawer stops.

The bicentennial exhibit also will include original editorial cartoons by the late Belleville artist Harvey Oelrich.

He produced commercial and fine art and supplemented his income by painting sets for local plays and murals for local businesses, such as Fischer's Restaurant and Hotel Belleville.

"He was a cartoonist for the Belleville News-Democrat (in the late 1950s and early '60s)," said Ray Varnum, 60, of Smithton. "And he even had a few cartoons that he did for the St. Louis Globe."

Varnum bought about 20 of Oelrich's cartoons at an auction in 2006. At that time, he owned Autumn Leaves Antiques in Lebanon.

The cartoons give Oelrich's take on controversial issues such as "blue laws" and federal school funding and political figures such as John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.

"I appreciated the cartoons for their artwork more than anything," said Varnum, who is vice president of Smithton Historical and Genealogical Society.

The exhibit is a project of the Belleville Bicentennial History and Archives Committee, which includes Schmidt Art Center, St. Clair County Historical Society, Belleville Labor and Industry Museum, Belleville Historical Society, Gustave Koerner House Committee and St. Clair County Genealogical Society.

People can submit up to three items for consideration by March 21. Entries should fit into one of six themes:

* Belleville Begins (origins, early residents)

* Belleville Grows (immigration, population, geography)

* Belleville Works (science, technology, business, industry, agriculture, labor, medicine, transport)

* Belleville Learns (schools, visual arts, music, literature, cultural institutions, theater, home, family life)

* Belleville Plays (sports, leisure activities, games, festivals)

* Belleville Serves (military, community service, fraternal organizations, charities, churches)

"There's so much history out there," said Belleville, who is collection coordinator for the labor museum. "There's so much we don't know, and hopefully this exhibit will bring out some people who can add a new perspective."

Got artifacts?

Wanted: Artifacts, photos or documents for "Belleville Bicentennial Exhibition: 200" (submit up to three items for consideration)

Entries: Fill out an application form and questionnaire, available at Schmidt Art Center, Belleville Labor and Industry Museum, St. Clair County Historical Society or online at belleville200.com (call numbers below to have copies mailed)

Deadline: March 21

Exhibit dates: July 3 to Aug. 15

Where: Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College

Lender reception: 6 to 8 p.m. July 2

Information: Call Will Shannon at 234-0600 or Judy Belleville at 234-7862 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

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