One of the things I love most about working at Greenwich Library is the fact that I'm surrounded by some incredible art! There are many unique sculptures outside and inside the library. There's a new art exhibit in The Friends' Flinn Gallery each month.
Historical Mural Being Removed from the Gymnasium at Hamilton Avenue School.
My favorite work of art is the WPA mural titled "The Life and Times of General Israel Putnam" by James Daughtery, which hangs on the wall in our Periodicals section. Its size and vivid colors really grab you! Its subject matter is also very striking. Daughtery used blues, greens, yellows and whites to document key events in the Revolutionary War General's life. The viewer can see General Putnam killing a wolf that had preyed on the town's sheep and goats. Then, he depicts Putnam's escape from the British. On the right side, one sees the General tied up to be burned at the stake by Native-Americans during the French and Indian War. (Fortunately, Putnam was rescued by the French.) Pulleys and ropes being used to lower mural from gymnasium wall.
A man, Mr. Fred Baulsir, came into the library recently to donate some photos that recreate the restoration of the mural. His wife, Linda Baulsir, had been instrumental in the restoration of the artwork. My interest was piqued! I knew that the mural had been painted by Daughtery through a WPA project, and that the library had received it from Hamilton Avenue School; but that was as much as I knew. So, like any good historical librarian, I decided to research it!
Mural Rolled Up to Facilitate Moving for Restoration.
James Daughtrey was a renowned painter, who moved from New York City to Weston CT. He was a member of several art associations, including the Silvermine Guild of Artists. From 1933 to 1939, under the WPA, he created murals for schools, municipal offices, housing developments and post offices. As Greenwich was preparing to celebrate its Tercentenary (300th Anniversary) Celebration in 1934, the Town commissioned Daughtery to create a painting commemorating Putnam's famous escape from the British. A re-enactment was scheduled for the following year. The painting would be hung in the new Town Hall addition. It was designed to fit in the Selectman's Office. It was 9-feet by 22-feet, and was designed to fit above a chair railing 4-feet above the floor. Daughtery designed it to hang a foot below the ceiling, stretching across a wall and above a doorway. He painted it to celebrate the Tercentenary and commemorate Putnam as a hero - an attempt to get people's minds off the difficult times of the Depression.
Workers carefully restoring the mural.
In 1940, the mural was moved to the Hamilton Avenue School. This was probably an attempt to share it with more people. It was hung in the gymnasium, between two basketball backboards! As you can imagine, the painting - which was reportedly glued directly to the wall - was constantly hit by basketballs and volleyballs. Fortunately, the artwork was rescued by the Daughtery Archive when a representative, Mr. Slocum, spotted the mural "under attack" by volleyballs. He informed the Daughtery Archive, and, when the School was undergoing renovations in 1998, the art group obtaind a $60,000 grant from the Ruth W. Brown Foundation to restore the mural.
Mrs. Baulsir (left) and Conservator Joseph Matteis (right) in front of restored mural.
Art conservator Joseph Matteis of Clinton, CT, was chosen to undertake the restoration. It took him 5-months to complete the painstaking work. The final cost was $54,145. Experts value the mural at about $250,000! As luck would have it, Greenwich Library was chosen as its new home when the Library was undergoing the construction of the new Peterson Wing in 1999. Once again, the mural was moved to a location, which would offer a greater number of people the opportunity to view it.
In 2006, several concerned Chickahominy citizens started lobbying the Town to return the mural to the newly-renovated Hamilton Avenue School. After all, the mural had hung in the gymnasium for approximately 60-years. Some parents objected, since they felt some of the images were too violent. The Chickahominy Neighborhood Association, composed of many residents who had attended the school over the years, decided not to return the mural to Hamilton Avenue School.
Today, you can still see it on the wall in the Periodicals section of the Greenwich Library.
Greenwich Time (Hearst Corporation)
The New York Times