Historic Maritime Mural on Display in Mattapoisett, MA
August 9, 2011
Some 100 people gathered at the Mattapoisett Historical Society Museum on Sunday, July 31, to celebrate the acquisition of an important piece of maritime art. “A Chart of the Whale Coast of New England, c. 1812” measures 16’ long by 6’ wide, and depicts the coast of New England as it appeared on early charts, when whaling was the dominant industry in the region. It also features numerous “detail” illustrations relating to life in the various coastal towns at the time.
“The longer you look at [the mural], the more you see. It tells a story of what was going on at the time,” said Historical Society president Seth Mendell, who spoke at the reception.
The mural was painted in 1919 by local author and illustrator Clifford Ashley—creator of “Ashley’s Book of Knots”— for his friend Gilbert Hinsdale, a wealthy industrialist. The painting was hung on the sloped sunroom ceiling of Hinsdale’s house at 20 Water Street, overlooking Mattapoisett Harbor.
When the house was placed on the market 2 years ago, then owner Polly Duff Phipps, a descendant of Hinsdale, wanted to be sure the mural found a safe home. She reached out to Mendell, who immediately recognized the painting’s historic value and set about securing funds for its restoration.
The painting was in rough shape, having been exposed to 90 years worth of smoke, sunlight and water (it even survived the infamous 1938 Hurricane), but Mendell eventually found the right man for the job: Gianfranco Pocobene, who has restored works for the Boston Public Library and the Trinity Church, also in Boston.
Transporting the mural to Pocobene’s studio wasn’t easy. It took 10 men to move the massive mural, which was mounted on solid wood mat boarding, held together by steel straps. The whole thing weighed 400 to 500 pounds.
The restoration work took 6 months to complete, at which point the mural was moved to its new home at the Mattapoisett church rented by the Historical Society. Remarkably, the painting fit perfectly on the back wall of the building, with only an inch and a quarter to spare on either side.
“Taking the chart out of Mattapoisett would have been a tragedy. It was made for this place,” said David Duff, son of Polly Duff Phipps. For her generosity, Mrs. Phipps received a framed limited-edition print of the mural. A view book is in the works that will show photos of the various details of the mural, taken by Jonathan Bekemeier.
- Visitors can view the mural at the Historical Society headquarters at 5 Church Street. Call (508-758-2844)
- The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday in August, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
To learn more about the mural:
Mattapoisett Historical Society: Ashley Mural (PDF Download)