Dispute Arises over How to Show King Paintings

The East Boston Friends of the Library (FOL) has launched a campaign to block the Boston Public Library’s efforts to split up a series of historic paintings that have hung in the Meridian Street branch for decades.

The group of paintings, titled “A History of Shipping” by Frederick Leonard King was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project under the Federal Arts Project (FAP) dating back to 1935.

The paintings 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 floated around Eastie that BPL administrators were of the opinion that the painting would not fit the decor of the new state-of-the-art modern library currently being built on Bremen Street and were quietly trying to block the community’s efforts to hang the paintings at the new branch.

“We are asking for a letter of support describing why residents would like the Frederick Leonard King Painting’s in the Boston Public Library Meridian St. Branch to remain together as a series and be hung in the new library as such,” said FOL member Madeline McComiskey. “We have been advocating for these paintings to be hung in the new library since its inception.  At first, there was no problem, they would stay intact and be displayed in the new library, then we were told they were not going to be all displayed at once but two or three in a quiet room.  This is not and never was the plan for these National Treasures.”

According to McComiskey BPL wants to display two or three paintings in a quiet room and store or have the rest displayed in other branches throughout Boston.

“This negates the “Ships through the Ages,” lesson,” she said.

There were originally 30 paintings in the series but During BPL’s move from Webster Street to Meridian Street something happened that changed how this series is viewed forever. What happened to 15 paintings no one knows so residents and FOL members are wary of BPL’s plan.

Members of the Friends of the Library, historians and citizens are advocating for the paintings to be hung as a series in the new East Boston Library.  Not only as part of East Boston’s maritime heritage but to insure the 15 remaining paintings are secured from being stolen or destroyed.

Gail Miller, another FOL member, worry that once the series is split up Eastie will lose its claim on the series.

“Scattering them makes no sense in our minds,” said Miller. “They are a series and belong together.   There is no reason why they all cannot be displayed. This series of paintings is the one historical treasure that we can put our hands on to easily display.  Once they leave the station there’s no getting them back and no one is going to ever trace their whereabouts.”

In 2011 FOL received a grant from the East Boston Foundation to identify, appraise, recommend conservation, and photograph the series of King paintings.

Recently, Oliver Bros. Fine Art Restoration advised FOL members that the paintings need cleaning, backings, repainting, and frames.  FOL members have said that before investing in the restoration project potential supporters will want to know the history and future of the paintings, which, at this time, is uncertain.

Several of the paintings, FOL members point out, have a direct link to the Eastie community.

Two paintings in particular, the Flying Cloud and the Sovereign of the Seas, depict ships built by famed shipbuilder and Eastie resident Donald McKay at his shipyard on Border Street.

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