PATRIOT LEDGER.com – The restoration of a historic painting at Pilgrim Hall Museum is producing unexpected benefits for museum visitors.
To create room for work on the massive “Landing of the Pilgrims” painting, the museum staff has cleared most of the main exhibit hall. Pilgrim exhibits, including the museum’s Bradford and Carver chairs, several statues and a chunk of Plymouth Rock, have been moved into the museum’s adjacent library and are to remain there until the restoration project is completed in June.
The move has given visitors a chance to visit the library, which for years also served as the office of the museum director and was generally off-limits, except to scholars.
To free up space for the exhibits during the painting restoration project, Pilgrim Hall Museum Director Patrick Browne has moved into offices in a building beside the museum. Browne said he intends to stay in his new offices and leave the library open to visitors after the restoration is completed
The library contains hundreds of books and manuscripts about the Pilgrims – from their early days in England and Holland to their settling in Plymouth. The books will remain accessible only to researchers and scholars, but their bindings, the locked floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that hold them, and the interior of the library are worth a look.
The main exhibit hall has been cleared of everything but pictures hanging on the walls and all but a few of the mannequins that display Pilgrim-era clothing.
For the next three months, the main attraction will be Henry Sargent’s “Landing of the Pilgrims,” a massive painting that depicts the Pilgrims stepping ashore in the New World.
Sargent, a Boston artist best known for his portraits and depictions of early 19th-century high society, created the painting in the early 1800s. It has hung in the hall since the museum opened nearly two centuries ago.
A $215,000 state grant has enabled Pilgrim Hall Museum to hire a restoration crew to remove the dirt and grime that has collected on the painting over the years.
A small test area in a lower corner of the painting shows how dramatically brighter the painting will be once the process has been completed.
Browne and other museum officials cannot wait.
“We’ll actually have blue water,” Browne said, noting the black and gray portion of the painting depicting Plymouth Harbor.
The restoration will begin this weekend with removal of the painting from the hall’s east wall and the dismantling of its gilt frame. Once the painting is off the wall, it will be shipped to Virginia, where its back will be lined with new canvas to give the painting strength and stability.
Photo and article by Rich Harbert