The peaceful little village of Old Loyston, Tennessee was located less than 10 miles from where the Museum now stands, and it was often said that everyone who lived in this tight knit community knew everything about everyone—everyone, that is, except old “Saupaw,” the hermit who lived in a cave down by the river.
It was rumored that Saupaw was part Native-American, and that he sometimes carved tombstones, but in reality, no one seemed to know who Saupaw really was—nor did they know where he came from. Nevertheless, he seemed harmless, and he came to be accepted by the community—especially so by Aunt Sis Irwin and her husband Maynard, who often gave him food and otherwise befriended him. Saupaw was touched by Sis and Maynard’s many acts of kindness, so with his own two hands, he made them a cupboard. This wonderful little piece of folk art includes, in raised lettering, the words “God Bless Our Home,” and a relief of vines and fruit.
When the Tennessee Valley Authority purchased land for the building of Norris Dam in 1934, the tiny community of Old Loyston was covered by the waters of the resulting lake. Aunt Sis moved her household effects to her new home in Andersonville—except the little Saupaw cupboard, which was attached to the house. When she returned to retrieve it, she found that it had vanished. That cupboard was likely the only remembrance anyone had of the kind, cave-dwelling hermit, and it seemed as though it would be gone forever.
Several years later, however, the son of Aunt Sis and Maynard, Conrad Irwin, was shocked to see a photograph of this lost piece of art in The New York Times. He wrote to the purported owner of the cupboard, and to the surprise of his family, Conrad was successful in regaining possession of it.
Aunt Sis kept the memento until her death. Then, it was passed on to Conrad, and later, to his only daughter, Barbara Jean Irwin Stooksbury. On May 1, 1988, Barbara presented this most interesting piece to the Museum, to be displayed in honor of her parents, Conrad and Mary Meredith Irwin.
NOTE: In 1994, Gertie Stooksbury George, a granddaughter of Aunt Sis, donated to the Museum an old, worn and torn store ledger from her father’s store in Old Loyston. Inside the ledger, we found an entry dated 1905, in which Saupaw’s real name was recorded. It was: George Saulpaugh, Sr.