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Painting brings ‘Light of Education’ to library

Date: 10/10/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Visitors to the Central Library will now have the opportunity to see a painting that had been hidden for years.

The mural “The Light of Education” unveiled in 1910 hung in the former Classical High School until 1987 when it was removed for a controversial restoration. It was then stored in Holy Name Church and then on the stage of Forest Park Middle School where it was discovered once again.

This time, a group of Classical High School alumni led by members of the Class of 1958 came to the painting’s rescue and raised $110,000 through donations and grants to pay for a proper restoration of the art work, but also find a new home for it.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said during the five year period between the Class of 1958 taking on the task of restoring the painting and its unveiling on Oct. 4, the group was “tenacious.”

He said the chair of the group, William Duquette, “would call me every week.”

MassMutual donated $10,000 for the event, the Community Foundation gave $5,000, the Massachusetts Historical awarded $22,000 and the Dr. Seuss Foundation made a gift of $22,489.

Alumni who contributed ranged from the class of 1932 to the Class of 1986. The committee that led effort included Duquette, Leslee Sinclair, Anthony Pellegrino, Christine Baker Ahrens, James Vinick, Ellen Marcuson Gordon and Constance Ranney Lancaster.

Artist Robert Lewis Reid was paid $2,500 in 1910 to crate a mural for the high school, a present from a group of citizens marking the 50th anniversary of the school, according to the history written by Sinclair that was distributed at the unveiling.

Lancaster, who researched Reid’s life and career, told the classmates assembled at the event “The Light of Education” is one of the few examples of his mural work that exists. Other murals can be seen at the Library of Congress, the Massachusetts State House, the Church of the Paulist Fathers in New York City and the Appellate Division Courthouse, also in New York City.

Conservator Gianfrano Pocobene of Boston presented a slideshow that illustrated the painstaking efforts to restore Reid’s work. He explained an effort made in 1987 by Greenfield teacher Thurston Munson to clean and restore the work, which had been damaged by water and dust, created “a fair amount of damage.”

He explained the almost three-year restoration process had to not only deal with the fact the canvas had been cut into two pieces, but also that Munson had not restored Reid’s work, but painted over it.

“It was excessive,” Pocobene said. He pointed out that Munson had used different colors, changing Reid’s composition.

Pocobene explained that conservators such as himself always use materials and techniques that can be removed or reversed if so desired. Munson had used oil paint to cover oil paint, which was took additional time and effort to remove, he added.

He believes that Reid had painted the mural on one piece of canvas and Pocobene and his staff had to join the two together as seamlessly as possible.

Sarno said the painting reflects that Springfield is “rich in history, culture and tradition.”