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‘Lost’ George Washington painting found in basement

The artist had designed the mural to hang in the former Taylor Opera House, which was being converted into a vaudeville and movie theater in 1921. The building was originally built in 1867 by John Taylor, who made his fortune as the founder of Taylor Pork Roll (controversially known as Taylor ham in North Jersey and pork roll in South Jersey).

Harding’s dramatic painting showed Washington in the midst of crossing the Delaware River just before surprising Hessian troops at Trenton on Christmas Day, 1776. The Continental Army commander is shown holding up his cocked cap while standing in the middle of the boat, surrounded by soldiers. and sailors defending themselves from the ice floes.

The rolled mural is stored in a conservator’s workshop at Cusworth Conservation in Lambertville, New Jersey.Credit:Annette Earling

As Millen dug deeper, she learned that the painting, measuring almost 15 feet by 10 feet, was supposed to have been the centerpiece of a new museum at the New Jersey state park, scheduled to open in New Jersey. the United States Bicentennial in 1976.

Except Millen never remembered seeing the artwork in the visitor center museum when she volunteered there. “I’m getting old enough to think: ‘Was I there and I forgot I was there?’” said the 65-year-old historian.

But Millen hadn’t forgotten. He located an old article that recounted what happened: The mural was too big for the new structure, so it was never displayed there. Instead, it was rescued by volunteer conservators as the old opera house was being torn down and then stored at Ringwood State Park in New Jersey, located about 80 miles away on the New York state line.

Charging

“I contacted the park and asked if it was still there,” Millen said. “One of the historians went to the basement of a building and found it rolled up next to the Christmas decorations, still on the easels where it had been placed in 1971.”

Millen asked if she could see the mural, but was told no, for fear of further damaging the priceless painting. “That drove me crazy,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been in the basement for over 50 years. I didn’t think it could hurt him more.”

Eventually, she got to see him. She called in a conservator and carefully unrolled the artwork, which had suffered half a century of neglect. In addition, it had been coated with wheat paste and Japanese rice paper for preservation, all of which must now be removed.

“It has a little bit of mold on it,” Millen said. “I’m sure some of the pigments will need to be replaced, but the conservator said it’s salvageable. It can be restored.

The Washington Crossing Park Association is raising $60,000 ($90,000) to save Harding’s mural, which this time will go to a new visitor center being built for the 250th anniversary of the nation’s founding in 2026. The designers of the structure at Washington Crossing State Park have ensured that the painting, once viewed with pride by thousands of Trenton moviegoers, will now have a permanent home.

“As a historian, there are a lot of things on my bucket list that I want to do,” Millen said. “Saving this mural is the icing on the cake. I’m excited. I can’t wait for the new museum to open so I can finally see it on display.”

Washington Post

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