Are the 25 branch libraries of the BPL considered mere stepchildren? This is the question that keeps popping up among Friends groups from East Boston to the South End who advocate for their libraries. Tales of too many unreturned phone calls, unanswered emails, poor communications between the main library and its branches surfaced at a recent breakfast hosted by the BPL for its Friends groups. The South End branch Friends, for example, has for years lobbied for numerous repairs, including the dangerously broken sidewalk at the branch's entry, to no avail.
But for an institution like the BPL, itself entrusted with a stellar art collection, the lack of support for efforts by its East Boston library Friends group to save 15 once-glorious Workers Progress Administration (WPA) murals of local seafaring
history is especially striking.
history is especially striking.Originally part of a frieze in a former East Boston library building, only 19 remain of the 35 murals of clippers and whalers, some built in East Boston in the mid-1850s. The BPL agreed reluctantly to display four of them in the stylish new East Boston library. But fifteen others need to be restored for an estimated $150,000. The series, called Ships Through the Ages, was painted by Frederic Leonard King in the 1930s. President Amy Ryan was quoted in a WBUR report last August as saying restoring the paintings "isn't within our resources." A question by FOSEL at the January 2014 BPL trustees meeting inquiring whether the BPL Foundation would consider partnering with the East Boston Friends for this project was met with stony silence. That would leave the Salvadoran Consulate, located in East Boston and mindful of its Latino immigrant history and Salvadoran community, to collect quarters and dollar bills in its offices' coffee cans. Except that is, for the East Boston Library Friends group.
Thanks to their advocacy, the Fund for the Arts, a Boston foundation administered through
The New England Foundation for the Arts, provided $5,000 to begin the restoration. And the Fund's president, Newell Flather, also agreed that East Boston high school students, most of them from low-income immigrant families, could benefit from an art conservation workshop sponsored by the Friends of the East Boston Library, and funded that as well. According to Susan Brauner, who helped organize the four after-school tutorials with born-and-East-Boston-bred library advocate Maddie McComiskey, it is the first such high-school project anywhere in the country. Called Art Conservation: The Intersection of Art, Science and History, the four tutorials are led by a group of specialists that include among others the East Boston High School arts teacher, Ronald MacGeorge; the Oliver Brothers who have begun restoring the murals, Peter Tysver and Greg Bishop; and the chair of the Chemistry Department at Emmanuel College Christine Jawerk-Lopez.
Twenty high-school students were expected, but 29 signed up. According to Brauner, one student and her friends were very impressed that so many adults from outside the school were interested enough in them to come and share information. She went on to ask more about what being an art conservator did. She noted she did not know any adult male, other than her teachers, who did anything but service work.
Donations to help restore the "Ships Through the Ages" murals may be sent to Friends of the East Boston Library, 365 Bremen Street, East Boston, MA 02128. The group has 501c3 status. Its EIN is 27-0832958. Or check for further information at GuideStar.