Several local residents braved a chilly Saturday afternoon to hear local author Cathy Mowrer and illustrator Emily Bonnette Hendershot speak about their new book "Young Thomas Ewing and the Coonskin Library." Marilyn Combs, a member of the Beverly Friends of the Library, who sponsored the Feb. 8 event at the library, introduced the speakers, whose book starts "about two miles from the site of this library."
Dr. Mower told the group her book was sparked by a "Love of history...local history." "My Dad always told me to 'never forget where you come from,'" which further inspired the book. She also gave a note of thanks to Phil Crane, who is active with the Lower Muskingum Historical Society and was a member of the audience and one of her former teachers. The book was further inspired by one of Mowrer's students in her Marietta College Social Studies methods classes when they asked, "Why don't I know that when I grew up here?" Mowrer felt it was time to address misconceptions about the rich legacy of history in southeastern Ohio. "These kids need to have a sense of local pride," Mowrer told the audience.
After trying to involve others in a project to develop this idea, Mowrer realized she could be the one to do something on her own. Thus began a three-year process to complete the book about Ewing. Mower also found that the more she delved into certain lives as she researched, the more local figures emerged to help provide more information to show students who they are. These history projects have "...become my passion. It's my home and who I am."
She then read an excerpt from the book to show how, even during the hostile times in which the book is set, "Kids are still kids and they can get along no matter what." Her books are self-published to ensure the integrity of the story and the illustrations.
Hendershot then spoke about the book's illustrations. It was important to her to get the colors and styles of the story to be "true and accurate." "We are all artists, whether by pen or brush or spoken word." said Hendershot. Her illustrations are a multi-step process involving various media to achieve the proper textures and finishes - watercolor paper, gesso, pencil, watercolor, markers, pastels - with some electronic work being involved in the final stages. Completing the illustrations was a very layered and time-intensive process.
Mowrer concluded the meeting with a brief synopsis of Ewing's life. He came from Wheeling to Campus Martius by flat boat. He later moved to Ames and came to Waterford to borrow a book, beginning the saga of the coonskin library. He encountered bears, panthers, and Indians on his journey. But his enthusiasm about books - because these early settlers were educated people - added to his frustration with the difficulty in finding reading material. An eventual community discussion arose about having a library. The initial books were purchased in Boston with coonskins contributed by community residents, and ground rules were set for the operation of the library. Libraries at Ohio University and in Columbus at the Ohio Historical Society have many of the original books from this 'coonskin library.' The library closed in 1860 due to the arrival of newspapers and other easily accessible print materials. Ewing's life continued to follow a path of success, with numerous lifetime achievements to follow. He left an important legacy to southeastern Ohio with the original development of the coonskin library.
Sue Sampson is a longtime columnist for The Parkersburg News & Sentinel.