Gracing one wall of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives is a mural that appears to have been created expressly for the space. Upon closer inspection, however, one sees its age and learns it began on the dining room wall of the Silas Burbank home in Mt. Vernon, Maine.
The peaceful scene, signed 'J D Poor 1830' was created by Jonathan Poor (1802-1845) of Sebago, Maine. When Poor was 16 he began traveling with his more well-known uncle, Rufus Porter, (1792-1884). He started as Porter's portrait painting assistant but around 1824 they switched from portraits to landscapes and found a market for painting murals in houses and taverns in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Poor became known as one of Porter's most productive apprentices and has murals attributed to him throughout rural Maine, N.H., Groton, MA, and a fireboard at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.
The mural was discovered in 1967, deteriorating under layers of wallpaper. Thus began a series of activities to save, conserve, remove and preserve the mural. A new, specially-made paint was applied to match the fading 178 year old colors and to help prevent further peeling. A dedicated group of volunteers worked together to save this treasure.
Jonathan Poor's work is thought to closely resemble his uncle's and they often worked together. In fact, as reported in a letter from a great-granddaughter, "Jonathan and Rufus visited relatives in Vienna and Mt. Vernon while they painted, as they had plenty of them to stay with as they worked." A small detail of our mural also suggests Jonathan Poor and Rufus Porter worked together: the man with a hat in the sailboat is a Porter signature.
More about Rufus Porter (and some mention of Jonathan Poor) may be found in: Lipman, Jean. Rufus Porter: Yankee Pioneer. N.Y.: Clarkson N. Potter, 1968. (ND237 .P8135 L48 1968) The author's thorough research about Porter and his work, including a detailed list of murals, helped his rediscovery in the 1960's. Lipman revised the work as Rufus Porter Rediscovered: Artist, Inventor, Journalist, 1792-1884 (ND237 .P8135 L56 1980) and included more information about his many other interests and inventions, including that as founder and first editor of Scientific American. See also The Rufus Porter School of Wall Mural Painting, (A/V ND237 .P8135 R8 2000) a videotape that tours 10 New Hampshire homes with outstanding original and restored murals by Porter (and Poor).
The Jonathan Poor Mural, 2007.048, was acquired through the generosity of Judy and John William McNaughton, 33°, Dorothy A. and Albert H. Richardson, Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, Trustees of the Supreme Council Benevolent Fund, The Webber Memorial Fund and Scottish Rite Masons in the fifteen states of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.
Photography by David Bohl.