Hanging in the Balance

-By John Lynds

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An historic painting by Frederick Leonard King inside the main reading room at the Meridian Street branch.

There’s an effort underway by the Friends of the Library group in East Boston to make sure the historic paintings that currently hangs in the Meridian Street branch of the Boston Public Library remain in the community and have ample space to be displayed once the new library is constructed on Bremen Street.

The historic paintings of Frederick Leonard King that were appraised, cataloged and photographed through a grant from the East Boston Foundation grant hang inside the main reading room at the Meridian Street branch. The group of paintings, titled “A History of Shipping” were a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project under the Federal Arts Project (FAP) dating from 1935.  The FAP was the visual arts arm of the Great Depression-era New Deal WPA Federal One program in the United States. It operated from August 29, 1935 until June 30, 1943. FAP’s primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal government buildings like schools, hospitals, libraries, etc.

The murals were originally at the Jeffries Point Branch on Webster Street. When the Jeffries Point branch was closed the murals were put up at the Meridian Street branch.

However, some rumors have floated around Eastie that BPL administrators are of the opinion that the painting would not fit the decor of the new state-of-the-art modern library that will be constructed on the former NStar site on Bremen Street.

The rumors have set off a bit of controversy and lit a fire under members of the Friends of the Library group who are now organizing an effort to ensure the painting remain in Eastie and are hung at the new library.

“It is important, as well to preserve the history of artistic accomplishments of the W.P.A. during the great depression,” said Friends of the Library’s Karen Maddalena. “The Roosevelt administration enacted programs to provide work for artists; craftsman and ordinary people who were struggling to survive and provide for their families.  These murals and the ones in the (East Boston) Post Office display and preserve a wonderful part of our political history.”

Debra Cave, another member of the Friends of the Library group said at the last library meeting, some were of the opinion that is didn’t make sense to design a library around one particular set of paintings.

“There isn’t enough wall space to accommodate all 14 paintings, some of which are 10 feet long,” said Cave. “My recommendation is that we choose a few for the new library and place the remaining pieces in the auditorium of East Boston High, if Principal (Michael) Rubin is willing. I think that they’d look beautiful there.”

BPL’s Christine Schonhart said in a letter to members of the Friends of the Library that the design of the new library is still in its infancy and BPL has made no decision on the display of the murals in the new East Boston branch.

“We have about three years before this library is completed,” said Schonhart. “I welcome all comments and suggestions, but I don’t want to upset anyone or have you believe that this is a “done deal”, as they say. The Library must balance a number of requests from the community regarding the new space, and having open and honest discussions is wonderful for all involved.”

Schonhart added that BPL is looking forward to working closely with the community over the next several years to make a great space that honors the history of Eastie and welcomes the future with innovative programs in early literacy, services for teens in a new teen space, historical and popular collections for adults and seniors and program space for the community.

“All aspects of the library will be thoroughly reviewed with the community,” said Schonhart.

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