Experts restoring Masonic mural for The Spirit of ’76 Museum

259
Jason Hawk | Wellington Enterprise
Wendy Partridge of the Intermuseum Conservation Association invites visitors to a Cleveland lab where an enormous Archibald Willard painting is being painstakingly restored.

JASON HAWK
EDITOR

A nearly 150-year-old painting by Wellington’s most famous Mason will soon be coming home.

Artist Archibald Willard was hired sometime around 1875 to create a huge mural for his Masonic brothers in Bellefontaine, Ohio, a small town between Lima and Columbus.

The 13-foot-wide cotton canvas shows the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

It’s been painstakingly restored over the past six months by experts at the Intermuseum Conservation Association on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland.

“We’ve done close to everything we can here at the lab, so our next step will be assembling it again in Wellington,” Paintings Conservator Wendy Partridge said Friday.

The enormous image was made with a glue-based paint, an inexpensive medium often used on tents and theater curtains.

It’s water soluble, so ICA workers gently padded more than a century of dirt from the mural’s surface with cosmetic sponges.

“We had to do it really, really gently,” Partridge said. “This very fragile paint layer, if you would rub your hand over it, you’d get paint on your hand.”

ICA staff also repaired tears and holes along the large piece’s edges, she told visitors from Wellington Masonic Lodge 127 and the Southern Lorain County Historical Society.

ICA Director of Conservation Andrea Chevalier said the Willard mural has a sensitive surface, and can easily be scratched and stained. “It shows its age,” she said.

The restoration was not intended to make the painting look brand new — it’s beautiful with vibrant color but still appears weathered.

Scott Markel, who is both a historical society board member and a Mason, said the mural will be displayed inside the main entrance of The Spirit of ’76 Museum on North Main Street in Wellington.

He said it was painted around the same time as Willard’s signature piece, “The Spirit of ’76,” which shows Revolutionary War heroes marching with drums and fife under an American flag.

Willard was a Wellington Mason himself. His commissioned mural was displayed by Bellefontaine Masons for about 30 years, then found its way to other lodges around the state. It was one of three rediscovered in 2016 in the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield.

It took some time to track down the murals’ history and the path they had taken over the years, Markel said. He credits local researcher Nicole Hayes of the “19th Century Wellington” blog for solving the mystery.

Markel said the Wellington Masonic Lodge will celebrate its 175th anniversary this spring, and he wants to have the restored mural ready for public viewing by then. “I hope to show it to the grand master during his visit then,” he said, beaming.

The cost of the restoration project is about $34,000. It’s made possible by an $18,000 grant from the Ohio History Connection, a nonprofit formerly known as the Ohio Historical Society.

“The more we get in the way of donations, the more we give. It’s as simple as that,” said Andy Verhoff, History Fund Grant Manager, who toured the ICA lab Friday.

“The money we give the money we’ve gotten from you and people like you.”

Verhoff said Ohio residents can choose to donate to the state history fund via your income tax return form, or purchasing Ohio “mastadon” license plates.

The OHC grant helps with the restoration of just one of the three murals, Markel said.

Find out how to donate toward further preservation efforts at www.thespiritof76museum.org/donate.