By John Lynds
When East Boston library janitor Paul Carley was cleaning out the former Meridian Street branch before it closed its doors for good he came across something interesting–an old dusty painting tucked away in a basement closet.
What Carley didn’t realize right away was he found a long lost Eastie treasure. It was one of the lost historic painting from the series “A History of Shipping” by Frederick Leonard King. The painting Carley found depicted a Viking Ship and was one of the paintings the Friends of the East Boston Library (FOL) had been searching for.
This week the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced the found King painting will receive a $15,000 grant to restore the Viking Ship painting to its original glory.
In her decision Chu said the grant would “support continued restoration efforts for the painting series Ships Through the Ages by Frederick Leonard King. The series is significant to the East Boston, Massachusetts community’s maritime heritage and is a product of the Federal Art Project.”
The King painting received the grant through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA’s) Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.
“The arts are all around us, enhancing our lives in ways both subtle and obvious, expected and unexpected,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Supporting projects like the one from the East Boston branch library offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”
Susan Brauner, chair of the neighborhood library’s Art Restoration Committee was excited about the news.
“I am glad that the people of East Boston will have an opportunity to have another of our maritime cultural heritage paintings restored and displayed,” she said.
The grant will allow the first painting in the Frederick Leonard King 1937 series Ships Through The Ages, The Viking Ship, to be restored. The painting, which was found in a locked room in the basement on the day of the branch’s move from Meridian Street, is blackened with age. According to the art restoration firm Oliver Brothers, however, the picture can be restored to its original condition.
This will be the third in the series of paintings to be restored. Last year the King painting depicting the Queen Mary was overhauled at Oliver Bros Restoration funded with a grant by the East Boston Foundation (EBF) and last year
FOL kicked off a fundraising effort two years ago with the goal of raising $50,000 to begin restoring the rest of the group of historic paintings.
In April 2012, the FOL reached a compromise with Boston Public Library (BPL) administrators on how to display the group of paintings by King in the new library on Bremen Street. Several painting are now on display in the library’s quite room.
Oliver Bros. Fine Art Restoration advised FOL members that the paintings need cleaning, backings, repainting, and frames.
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 that was built on Bremen Street and were quietly trying to block the community’s efforts to hang the paintings at the new branch.
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.
In 2011 FOL received a grant from the East Boston Foundation to identify, appraise, recommend conservation, and photograph the series of King paintings.
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.
The group of paintings, titled was 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.