An artist's long road to connecting with her great-great-grandfather inspires her craft.
It all started with a friend request.
Gillespie Park painter Brenda Secky noticed she had a Facebook notification July 9 from someone she’d never met. The man’s name was William Styple, and they had no mutual friends, so naturally she took to Google to do some research.
From her search, she learned Styple is a writer and historian. Intrigued by what the published author might want to chat with her about, Secky accepted his friend request.
Styple then messaged Secky a photo of a watercolor painting he had in his possession. The attached note said he had searched for the painting’s creator, someone who signed the work “AC Striffler” on the website askART, an artist directory showing the work of millions of artists from around the world, and found a post that revealed its creator was Albert Christian Striffler — Secky’s great-great-grandfather.
“My grandma had told me about him, how she heard he was the only grandchild [of his generation] with an interest in art,” Secky says. But when she never heard anything else, she started to question whether her grandmother was correct.
Secky searched her relative on askart.com and found a 2011 post with her own name on it. She had published a request for anyone with any information about Striffler to contact her. In 2015, a man had responded saying he owned a watercolor signed by AC Striffler, but Secky had been taking care of arrangements for her parents, who had both died, and she’d forgotten all about her post.
She sent an email to the man, Robert Lyng, and he replied with a photo of the painting in his home. Secky compared the signature on Lyng’s painting with the one on Styple’s, and they were identical. She had officially found two collectors of her great-great-grandfather’s work.
Lyng’s painting came into his life when he went to buy a ladder from a man whose grandpa had died. He was selling his possessions, and one of the only things left in the California house was a framed painting signed by AC Striffler. He bought it, and Secky still marvels at the fact that a piece by her great-great-grandfather, who lived in New York, had made it to the West Coast.
Styple’s watercolor had belonged to his own grandfather, a Realtor in New York City and New Jersey who collected many things. After he died, Styple was going through his possessions and found the painting tucked into an old box. Curious, Styple searched the artist’s signature on askart.com and stumbled on the thread between Secky and Lyng.
Styple was interested in selling his Striffler work, and Secky jumped at the opportunity. She quickly sent a $175 check to Styple’s home in Chatham, N.J., that got lost in the mail. After venting about the road blocks, her brother and sister told her it was probably a scam. But Secky didn’t lose hope. She had a feeling this was the real deal.
After weeks of frustration, she sent a new check. He got it and mailed the painting on Aug. 14. It arrived at her door four days later.
“My grandma always said never give up,” Secky says. “I can’t believe this is here in my life now.”
She says she’s working to secure the painting owned by Lyng.
Secky is a pastry chef by trade who’s had an interest in art since she was 3 years old. She used to have a home gallery in Jacksonville, and she’s also displayed her work at several art shows. Since getting more serious with her craft, she’s created more than 200 commissioned works.
Secky grew up looking at a framed painting by Striffler in her childhood home, but after a few moves, the painting was lost. Because she was always intrigued by her paternal great-great-grandfather, her grandmother gave her the only photograph they had of him. It went missing around the time of Styple’s friend request, and Secky wonders if it’s a sign from either Striffler or her grandmother.
After diving into more research about him on ancestry.com, Secky found that her great-great-grandfather was born in 1861 to immigrant parents who had moved to the U.S. from Germany. Based on the techniques demonstrated in the painting she now owns, she guesses it would have taken him a while to get to that skill level, so he was probably in his 30s when he painted it. That means the painting she owns is at least 127 years old.
The painting is now framed and hangs on the wall across from her bed. It’s the first thing she sees when she gets up every morning.
“It has inspired me to continue to pursue the passion of this gift I’ve been given, that’s been passed down generation after generation,” Secky says. “I’m just in awe.”
There’s another family member who picked up the artistic gene — Secky’s grandson, Liam, for whom she bought an easel and art set as a Christmas present. He loves it and sends her photos of his work all the time, she says. She’s thankful to pass on the passion she shares with Striffler.
“I know this is all because of him,” she says while gesturing toward the ceiling. “I feel really blessed.”