The Hingham Journal/ three articles

September 15, 2011

MAIN STREET RESIDENTS DISCOVER HIDDEN MURAL

By Carol Britton Meyer/ Wicked Local staff photo by Robin Chan  

When Pat and Frank Hanrahan first moved into their circa 1800 Main Street home more than 30 years ago, they weren’t aware of its rich legacy. They didn’t know at the time that one of America’s greatest marine artists, Frank Vining Smith, had once made his home there.

 

Mural restoration exampleA mural by Frank Vining Smith
was discovered in a Main Street home recently

 

When Pat and Frank Hanrahan first moved into their circa 1800 Main Street home more than 30 years ago, they weren’t aware of its rich legacy.

They didn’t know at the time that one of America’s greatest marine artists, Frank Vining Smith, had once made his home there.

After discovering a geneology chart tucked into the attic rafters, the Hanrahans did extensive research at the town library to learn more about the former occupants. As it turned out, prior owner Harold Davis, who was listed on the chart, was living in World’s End at the time. (He was the next resident to live in the house after the Smiths, who occupied it from about 1931-1939.)

“We returned the chart to him and his family, and in the process of our research obtained a list of other past owners,” Hanrahan recalled. “One of them was named Nella Smith.” But it took years to learn the full story.

Last November, the Hanrahans purchased a Smith painting depicting a majestic ship at an international fine arts show in Boston years after hearing a rumor that Smith had once lived in their Main Street house. “We brought it home, hung it up, and said, ‘Welcome home, Frank,” Hanrahan quipped.

Along with the painting, the Hanrahans received a copy of Jim Craig’s “Frank Vining Smith – Maritime Painting in the 20th Century” biography containing reproductions of some of his marine paintings and other artwork.

“The book states that once Smith became a well-known artist and got enough money together, he decided to have a house built to his specifications and moved from Main Street to High Street,” Hanrahan said.

The book also mentions Smith’s second wife, Nella. “I referred back to my 32-year-old handwritten records and started putting two and two together,” she said. Hanrahan’s old notes indicated that Nella took ownership of the house around 1931, according to town records.

As further affirmation, the Hanrahans came across a circa 1930 photo in the book of Nella standing in front of their Main Street garage.

Rumor substantiated

All the information started coming together at that point. “The rumor — now substantiated — was that Smith had lived here and we had believed it, although there was no actual proof at the time. I knew in my heart that he had lived here. But even a well-known town historian hadn’t picked up on that fact, because the house was owned by his wife.”

Last March, much to their surprise, one of Smith’s 5-1/2 by 7-1/2-foot murals depicting a South Sea island scene was discovered under a wall panel in their home by a contractor during a renovation project. This left the Hanrahans awestruck.

“We stood there in disbelief,” Hanrahan said. Smith is thought to have painted the mural in the early 1930s, since that’s the time period in which he traveled to that part of the world.

Hanrahan explained how the mural was found: “The contractor was having difficulty cutting a hole in the wall to install a light switch. There was a piece of paneling that had been painted over, and once he popped it off, you could see the mural underneath! It had remained covered for decades.” She isn’t sure at what point the painting was obscured or why.

‘His brush strokes’

Although unsigned, the Hanrahans are convinced it’s an original Smith work of art. “It’s definitely his style and brush strokes,” she said. “An expert agreed.”

In what’s expected to be a two or three-day process starting this week, Oliver Brothers, experts in fine art restoration and art conservation services, will painstakingly remove the painting and prepare it for the trip to their Beverly, Mass. studio, where it will be repaired and restored.

Because the oil painting was done on horsehair plaster, the process involves removing the surrounding woodwork after applying a protective coating to the art and then shaving the painting off of the wall, Hanrahan explained.

“We don’t want to lose the mural. It’s part of the history of the house,” she said. “Once it’s restored, we plan to put it back in the same room where it was discovered; there’s nowhere else to put it because it’s so large!”

Hingham Historical Society Director Suzanne Buchanan recommended Oliver Brothers when the Hanrahans sought her advice.

“Pat’s detective work in finding out the history of her house and its connection with Frank Vining Smith makes a great historic preservation story,” Buchanan said. “And her enthusiastic preservation of Smith’s South Seas mural is a small victory for the mindset that loves Hingham’s old houses. More often than not, I hear about beautiful old murals being covered up by homeowners because they don’t match their modern, off-the-shelf décor, so it’s very gratifying when a homeowner is creative about preserving and keeping the history of their old home alive.”

Buchanan called the mural “a great piece of Americana and a wonderfully quirky addition to Hingham’s Main Street charms. It will be great to see it again when it has been conserved and restored to its original place,” she said.“Frank Vining Smith has recently undergone a thorough re-assessment by author James Craig, who has situated him strongly in the tradition of English and American marine painters. By doing a little bit of research, and having a good eye, Pat has made herself the lucky owner of a fine piece of art by an important American painter.”

 

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September 22, 2011

HIGHNAM MURAL PROJECT PROGRESSING

By Carol Britton Meyer

After a Frank Vining Smith mural was discovered under a wall panel in their home earlier this year, Main Street residents Pat and Frank Hanrahan decided to have the colorful, eye-catching artwork restored.Vining, who lived in the circa 1800 house where the Hanrahans now reside between 1931 and 1939, is considere…

After a Frank Vining Smith mural was discovered under a wall panel in their home earlier this year, Main Street residents Pat and Frank Hanrahan decided to have the colorful, eye-catching artwork restored.
Vining, who lived in the circa 1800 house where the Hanrahans now reside between 1931 and 1939, is considered to be one of America’s greatest marine artists. He was particularly known for his magnificent paintings depicting the Golden Age of Sail.
The Main Street mural, which contractors unexpectedly uncovered during a renovation project, depicts a South Sea island scene. It is thought to have been painted in the early 1930s, since that’s the time period in which Smith traveled to that part of the world.

The preparation process began last week after Oliver Brothers, a fine art restoration company with locations in Boston and Beverly, Mass. was engaged to perform a restoration of the artwork.

The first step was for Greg Bishop and Peter Tysver of Oliver Brothers to investigate the condition of the mural. “We were surprised to see such an interesting work of art painted in what was once a back porch or mud room for the Smith family,” Bishop said.

The mural has been subjected to temperature and humidity extremes for several decades and has suffered as a result. “Any work of art does best when kept in stable conditions,” Bishop said.

Due to the unstable conditions, the horsehair plaster that the mural was painted on has become weak and is crumbling in several areas, he explained. “Due to this fact, the decision was made that the best treatment for the mural would be to [apply a protective coating], remove it from the wall, perform a restoration to strengthen it, and then re-install the mural into the same space.”

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Oliver Brothers will be involved in the removal process. Then it will be transported to their studio for restoration.

Tysver found it interesting to see a work of art by Smith that was not a ship painting. “Oliver Brothers has restored several paintings by Smith over the years, and this one is certainly unique,” he said.

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May. 24, 2012

MURAL HAS BEEN RESTORED

By Carol Britton Meyer

After a Frank Vining Smith mural was discovered under a wall panel in their home last year by contractors performing a renovation project, Main Street residents Pat and Frank Hanrahan decided to have it restored.This unexpected uncovering of the colorful, eye-catching artwork left the couple awestruck….

 Fine Art Restoration- mural exampleCourtesy PhotoFrom left Greg Bishop and Peter Brefini of Oliver Brothers, experts in fine art restoration, reinstall a Frank Vining Smith mural in a Main Street home following an off-site restoration of the artwork.

 

After a Frank Vining Smith mural was discovered under a wall panel in their home last year by contractors performing a renovation project, Main Street residents Pat and Frank Hanrahan decided to have it restored.

This unexpected uncovering of the colorful, eye-catching artwork left the couple awestruck.

“It was a big, big surprise to find the mural here,” Frank said. “And now that the painting has been restored it is clearer and crisper and the colors pop more than they did before.”

Following a painstaking process, the off-site restoration and repair work was recently completed.

Now that the painting is back in its rightful place in their home, Pat shares her husband’s enthusiasm.

“We’re just thrilled,” she said. “This represents the preservation of an artwork of a prior generation for future generations. It was a fascinating process.”

Pat went on to say that the mural looks especially beautiful when the porch doors are open and the sunlight streams in. “This is how it should be viewed!” she said.

Vining, who lived in the circa 1800 house where the Hanrahans now reside between 1931 and 1939, is considered to be one of America’s greatest marine artists. He is best known for his magnificent paintings depicting the Golden Age of Sail.

In contrast, the Main Street mural depicts a South Sea island scene, thought to have been painted in the early 1930s when Smith traveled to that part of the world.
Restoration process

The preparation process began last September when Oliver Brothers, experts in fine art restoration and art conservation services with locations in Boston and Beverly, Mass., was engaged to perform the restoration.

The first step was for co-owners Greg Bishop and Peter Tysver to investigate the condition of the mural, which had been subjected to temperature and humidity extremes for several decades.

For that reason, the horsehair plaster that the mural was painted on had become weak and was crumbling in several areas.

All things considered, it was determined that the best treatment would be to apply a protective coating, remove the painting from the wall and transport it to their Beverly studio, perform repairs and a restoration to strengthen it, and then re-install the mural into the same space.

“It was as scary watching them put the mural back in place as it was seeing them remove it from the wall initially,” Pat said. “It was particularly unnerving watching three guys pressing their hands against it to hold it in place during the re-installation process!”

Bishop quipped, “It’s as solid as a rock now [so there was nothing to fear]!”

Tysver also performed some of the restoration work. He recently stopped by to see the mural for the first time since it was installed and was pleased with the results. “Excellent!” he commented. “It was a challenging project, but well worth the effort.”
The mural is complemented by a sky-blue ceiling with fluffy white clouds, painted earlier by local contractor Tim James, who discovered the mural in the first place.

When asked by Bishop if the Hanrahans would take the mural with them if they ever decided to move, Pat’s quick response was: “No, it has got to remain here in perpetuity – period!”
“It belongs with the house,” Frank agreed.

Oliver Brothers’ many other projects include restoration of a number of Rufus Porter wall murals, which he painted in various homes all around New England. Porter was also an inventor and founder of the “Scientific American” magazine.

Other Smith works

The Hanrahans also own other artworks by Smith. Most recently they received a call from the owner of the Marine Arts Gallery in Salem, where they had earlier purchased one of Smith’s clipper ship paintings.

“He called us because a recently widowed woman was selling a different clipper ship painting by Smith and he thought we might like to buy it,” Pat said.

The temptation was too great to resist, and now both paintings hang in their home. “The gallery owner reported to us that the woman who sold the painting, who we had never met, was elated that it would be displayed in a house where Smith had actually lived and said, ‘It’s back where it belongs.’” The couple had commissioned the painting for their wedding anniversary and had displayed it in the same spot in their home for 50 years, the Hanrahans were told.

“I’m sure it was difficult for her to give it up,” Pat said.

The Hanrahans are particularly pleased that the mural has been preserved not only for their own enjoyment but for that of future generations as well.

Mural art restoration project

Pat and Frank Hanrahan in their home

Art Restoration Boston/Beverly, OliverBrothers

Greg Bishop and Peter Tysver, Oliver Brothers Art Restoration
 

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