Sunday, February 23, 2020

‘Handel’s temple of sound on Mott Street’

Almighty pow’r, who rul’st the earth and skies,
And bade gay order from confusion rise;
Whose gracious hand reliev’d Thy slave distress’d,
With splendour cloath’d me, and with knowledge bless’d;
Thy finish’d temple with Thy presence grace,
And shed Thy heav’nly glories o’er the place.

Solomon, from the libretto

What are you doing in two weeks? Get the boys from lodge and your ladies together for a class trip and go get some culture! Handel’s oratorio Solomon will be performed by Amor Artis Chorus at Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. From the publicity:

G.F. Handel’s Solomon
Sunday, March 8
3:30 p.m.
Amor Artis Chorus
Basilica of St. Patrick’s
Old Cathedral
261 Mott Street, Manhattan
Tickets here

Seize a rare opportunity to hear Handel’s majestic oratorio Solomon. Alex Ross of The New Yorker deemed Act III “Handel’s genius at its vertiginous height . . . [a] temple of sound, which has withstood the centuries and shines brighter than ever.” Led by the “exquisite” singing of Sarah Nelson Craft in the title role (Opera News), Amor Artis, in collaboration with our friends, the “truly excellent” dynamos of New York Baroque, Inc. (The New York Times), will present this famous story of wisdom and judgment, which features some of Handel’s grandest choruses. Join us at the beautiful space at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

Amor Artis Chorus
Madeline Healey, soprano
Katie Lipow, soprano
Sarah Nelson Craft, mezzo-soprano
Alex Guerrero, tenor
Michael Steinberger, tenor
Richard Holmes, baritone

New York Baroque, Incorporated

British Choirs on the Net explains:

The popularity of oratorio in England owes much to the nation’s choral singing tradition and the patronage by the Elector of Hanover, later George I, of George Frederick Handel. In his oratories, Handel sought both to educate and entertain, and provided a foil to the more restrained and devotional religious music of Byrd and J.S. Bach.

Handel composed Solomon between May 5 and June 13, 1748. The librettist, as with his next work Susanna, is unknown. The plot is simple with Act I dealing with the inauguration of the newly completed temple, and ends with Solomon beckoning his queen toward the cedar grove, where one suspects it is not just the “amorous turtles” that “love beneath the pleasing gloom.” Act II is based around the well known story of two women arguing over who is the mother of the newborn baby, and Solomon’s sharp thinking to find a solution. Act III portrays the visit of the Queen of Sheba (also known as the Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia), and her amazement at the glory and splendor of Solomon’s court.

With a relatively small and diverse cast of characters (Solomon, Queen of Sheba, two Harlots, Zadok the Priest, and a Levite), it falls to the chorus, as builders and inhabitants of this “golden city,” to emphasize the grandeur and splendor of Solomon’s kingdom, and to literarily provide the pillars of the whole piece. These grand choruses, seven of which are in eight voice-parts, add to the texture and opulence of the oratorio mirroring the glory of the court and religious intensity.

Always an astute businessman, Handel praised and paid homage to his patron by highlighting the perceived parallels, for the eighteenth century audience, between Solomon and George II. The qualities of Solomon, as portrayed by Handel, his piety (Act I), wisdom (Act II), and splendor (Act III), were also attributable to the reigning English king, and Handel duly praised the establishment virtues of happy marriage, rural contentment, and a national religion.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

‘Sign of Distress from the Stamp Club?’

Following the demise four years ago of New York Masonic Stamp Club, the last vestige of Masonic philatelic fraternalism in the United States is the George Washington Masonic Stamp Club in Virginia. For now.

This club will host its annual meeting next Sunday but, in a message to the membership, President Walter Benesch forecasts an uncertain future for the club. But first, this meeting:

George Washington
Masonic Stamp Club
Sunday, February 23
2 p.m.
George Washington
Masonic National Memorial
Alexandria, Virginia

Come to the North Lodge Room for the usual cover-and-stamp exchange at 1:30 p.m. The annual meeting will begin at two o’clock. The Master of Philately degree will be conferred on members who have not yet received it, and Master Mason walk-ins are welcome too. Life Membership costs $20.

There will be a number of door prizes. Some albums and special philatelic items may be up for sale as well. Do not miss this wonderful annual opportunity to mix with your fellow Freemason philatelists. The meeting usually adjourns by around 4 p.m. to reconvene for dinner.

Following the meeting, a no host dinner will be enjoyed at Joe Theismann’s Restaurant (1800 Diagonal Road, just at the bottom of Shooter’s Hill). Every effort will be made to reserve a table in the “upper deck.” Dinner orders will be off the menu.

While the kitchen prepares the dinners, the program of the evening will be presented: a talk based on some of the ideas in astrophysicist Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs. Dr. Randall describes the fact dark matter and dark energy make up more than 85 percent or more of our universe. She cited a particular episode of the original Star Trek TV show called “Wink of an Eye.” Could this have implications to Masonry and our spiritual beliefs? This will be explored in the talk.

For questions, to confirm that you will be present, and/or especially if you would like to receive the Master of Philately on February 23, please contact Secretary John R. Allen here.

This may be a tipping point for the club. Those of us loyal supporters must face the fact that stamp collecting and cover cachets are not attracting interest by younger members, and has lost older members in varied ways. The famous New York Masonic Stamp Club, which helped found our club, is no longer. Their wonderful magazine has ceased to exist. Bob Domingue, the Philatelic Masonry editor, continues to publish a wonderful news letter informing the declining number of Masonic philatelist what is happening related to Masonic stamps around the world. Truly a hero trying to keep the interest alive. Yet in his Blue Friars talk a few years ago, he admitted there is no chance the interest and value of stamp collecting will recover.

Even the GWMSC, which once held as many as seven meetings a year, has only one meeting a year now. Yes, we continue to offer the Master of Philately, the last source for the degree, but can we continue without an increase in membership and leadership?

I am therefore appealing to the members to either step up or ask if the GWMSC should close and our efforts be cancelled like the stamps on an envelope. That and the election of officers will be the focus of our meeting this year. If there are new members, or old members who have not received the degree, the degree will be offered. There is no extra fee to receive the Master of Philately degree, although you must be a GWMSC Life Member.

Please attend. The club needs you most urgently.

Walter Benesch, President

I collected stamps, mostly first day covers, in my youth, but I don’t know how many of today’s 35-year-olds are continuing the hobby—especially as Freemasons—so perhaps this club has run its course. The U.S. Postal Service does a poor job of communicating our country’s history through its stamp releases, and it seems very rare to find a new stamp that has some relevance to the Masonic world. But maybe I’ll be proven wrong next Sunday. Perhaps a coterie of educated Masons from Virginia and DC will surprise the club at its meeting with that much-needed infusion of fresh blood. You research lodge guys, you observant lodge guys, you historians, art mavens, and other traditionalists have heard the call.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

‘White House said to be drafting architecture executive order’

Courtesy Khan Academy

By Operative Masonry, we allude to a proper application of the useful rules of architecture, whence a structure will derive figure, strength, and beauty, and whence will result a due proportion and a just correspondence in all its parts. It furnishes us with dwellings and convenient shelter from the vicissitudes and inclemencies of seasons; and while it displays the effects of human wisdom, as well in the choice as in the arrangement of the sundry materials of which an edifice is composed, it demonstrates that a fund of science and industry is implanted in man, for the best, most salutary, and beneficent purposes.

Middle Chamber Lecture
Grand Lodge of New York

A flurry of media reports last week claim a presidential executive order is being drafted that would make neo-classical the sole style of architecture for most future federal government buildings.

The president of the United States is empowered by law to issue executive orders to govern operations of the Executive Branch of the federal government. Donald Trump has made three such orders in 2020, but that being discussed in the media is not among them.

Predictably, most media coverage is not only negative, but also near hysterical. The story broke February 4 in Architectural Record. The next day, ArtNet News reports:

In a new executive order that’s quickly drawing comparisons to fascist ideology, President Trump plans to re-integrate “our national values into Federal buildings.”

Titled “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” the order seeks to rewrite the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture to ensure that the “classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for new buildings, according to Architectural Record, which obtained a draft of the document.

The order denounces the quality of architecture since the Guiding Principles were first issued in 1962 by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and cites Brutalism and Deconstructivism as examples. It specifically calls out the U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco, the U.S. Courthouse in Austin, and the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami in particular for having “little aesthetic appeal.”


J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, DC.

U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco.

Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami.

The New York Times, which would advocate for cancer if the Trump-appointed Surgeon General of the United States discovered its cure, offers this headline on its Art & Design Section last Friday:

on Architectural Diversity
Weaponizes Greek Columns

For God’s sake.

The Art Newspaper, quoting Pulitzer-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, says:

Many policies that we’re seeing now seem to be about exclusion, and now it’s in the realm of architecture. It’s a terrible mistake and it’s inconsistent with an enlightened, liberal democracy. Perhaps it was a mistake to think that architecture would not come under this spotlight.

Conversely, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Myron Magnet, author and winner of the National Humanities Medal, explains:

Architectural classicism is a living language, not an antiquarian straitjacket. Its grammar of columns and capitals, pediments and proportions allows a wide range of expression. Just look at the original genius with which Michelangelo marshaled that language in his era or Christopher Wren in his. It’s a language that constantly updated itself in America’s federal city, from the handsome 1790s White House to John Russell Pope’s sublime 1940s Jefferson Memorial and National Gallery of Art. In the language of classicism, buildings relate civilly to each other, forming harmonious cities—Venice or pre-World War II London—in which the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts, however beautiful some may be. A bad classical building may be awkward or uninspired; it is never hideous. And all is based on human proportions and human scale.

Not so for the modernism that the proposed executive order discourages. Though modernism is an odd word for a style that’s now almost a century old, it began with an explicit European rejection of American architecture and a thoroughly 20th-century impulse toward central planning and state control. Modernism brought housing projects so bare and standardized that no worker wanted to live in them.

In City Journal, Catesby Leigh, past founding chair and fellow of the National Civic Art Society (which supports the executive order) writes:

One thing to be borne in mind at this politically charged juncture in our national life is that classicism is not an “ideology,” as some critics are charging. It is a formal language, with a vocabulary and syntax—originating with the classical column and its superstructure—geared to the idealization of structure in anthropomorphic terms. In other words, the classical language makes its appeal to us as embodied beings. It has shown itself supremely adaptable to changing social and technological conditions, and thoroughly receptive to regional inflections. Classicism is not, and never has been, a closed system. And it should come as no surprise that it has been used (and abused) by political regimes from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

‘Masonic sights at the NRA museum’


So I took Saturday off from Masonic Week to catch up with an old friend who relocated to Virginia recently, and we headed to the headquarters of the National Rifle Association in Fairfax to visit its National Firearms Museum.

I don’t think it unreasonable at all that I expected to find at least one firearm inside that was decorated with fine engraving of Masonic symbols, not because of a Masonic fanaticism, but just from a knowledge of historic firearms and of how Masons exhibit pride in their membership by adorning important personal possessions with obvious clues of their Masonic lives.

I figured I would have found something like these Colts, but decorated with plumbs, squares, levels, etc.

But I failed to find any such gun. There may be one or more exhibited, but I missed them. We spent nearly three hours(!) inside—that’s pretty much what it takes to make a careful review of the thousand or more items on display—but after an hour or so, the eye grows weary. I shot 128 photos before I realized it’s too hard to capture everything. My advice is to visit this amazing resource and see for yourselves. Bring walking shoes and energy bars. On display are everything from a medieval hand cannon (I always thought that was merely a figure of speech) to the Gatling gun used so memorably in The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Anyway, I did find a few other items of Masonic interest.

Gen. Winfield S. Hancock’s Masonic Robey M1850 S&FO Sword (ca. 1863) – “Hancock the Superb” commanded the Federal troops on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and he ran for president as a Democrat in 1880. He was a brother at labor in Charity Lodge 190 in Pennsylvania.

I didn’t know Hancock was a Freemason, and I wasn’t especially drawn to this sword because it was displayed at ankle-level and the presence of Masonic symbols is anything but obvious. But I was on the lookout for Masonic symbols in this museum and, with some bodily contortion, I espied a small Square and Compasses (and maybe more) on the guard of the weapon. I’m sorry. I don’t know if you’ll see it here. Photography of this item was difficult, but it is there.

This powder horn was nice to see. Masonic folk art, made by soldiers, sailors, pioneers, artisans, and guys just sitting at home, can take any form, but carvings of animal bone are very common.

This leather pouch didn’t exactly jump out at me, but I was near enough to spot the Square and Compasses the way the initiated eye inevitably discerns such things amid busy scenery. This was a prop in the film The Alamo from 1960, and was worn by Richard Widmark in his portrayal of Bro. Jim Bowie.

There are museums, and there are museums, and this one is in the latter category for its incredibly vast inventory on display. Firearms from throughout the centuries and from all over the world (God, some French gunsmiths of the 1800s were insane!) are showcased as matter of factly as any items chronicling human achievement. It’s impossible to list a top ten of the most impressive, but the pistols fashioned in the form of the M1911 that were homemade by Viet Cong machinists simply demonstrate how intractably determined they were to fight. Those weapons certainly were primitive, but I’m sure they worked.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

‘Hail to the Great Chief’

I am not allowed to divulge his name nor reveal his face, but an old friend became Great Chief of the Grand Council of Knight Masons of the United States on Friday. He is the third from Northern New Jersey Council 10 to attain this topmost office.

Friday, February 7, 2020

‘¡Viva El Presidente!’

(With apologies to Ben Elton and Woody Allen.)

Courtesy BBC
Brotherens, por favor, when next we meet, I would appreciate being greeted with a smart military salute and a hearty “Viva El Presidente!” because this evening I have been chosen to lead the Masonic Society for the ensuing two-year term.

Courtesy Rollins/Joffe Productions    
As this august group’s seventh president, I decree: the official language of the Masonic Society will be Swedish. In addition to that, all members will be required to change their underwear every half-hour.

But seriously, the Masonic Society enters a rebuilding phase.

  • Board member Greg Knott advances to the Second Vice Presidency, and so Oscar Alleyne becomes First Vice President. Other personnel changes are to come.
  • Our membership stats fluctuate, but if you once were a member we somehow lost, don’t be surprised when you find me on your doorstep with a pizza and a six pack looking to talk about you rejoining. Actually, a survey to current and past members will help us understand what about the Society is appreciated, and what is disappointing. Coming soon.
  • We are talking about ways to enhance membership value in the Masonic Society. When Masons in my travels talk to me about our dues, the consensus is “Forty-five bucks—no problem!” But those of us inside the brain trust want to deliver more for your dollar, so we will find a way forward using media technologies. A discourse community, for sane Masonic conversations, and videos, to bring far away lectures to you, are feasible. We are blessed to have several eminent Masons, who do this sort of thing professionally, guiding us here.
  • Special events? God, I hope so! It seems like another Masonic-con or Esoteric-con springs up somewhere in the United States every couple of weeks. In years past, the Masonic Society hosted a number of unforgettable experiences, and I hope to regain that momentum before impeachment hearings commence!

We are grateful to Mark Tabbert for his after-dinner remarks this evening in which he presented the historical record of George Washington’s actual Masonic life. Not the myths nor the exaggerations, but just the facts concerning what has become a misunderstood chapter in Masonic history. Look for Mark’s upcoming book on this subject due soon from University of Virginia Press.

That’s enough blogging for tonight. I’ll be in Virginia for another day, but taking a break from Masonic Week to catch up with an old friend who relocated to this area recently, meaning “it’s five o’clock somewhere.”

‘Mount Vernon to display one of his aprons’

One of Bro. George Washington’s Masonic aprons will go on display at Mount Vernon again later this month.

Don’t be fooled into thinking there is only one “Washington’s apron.” There are three I know of: New York Freemasonry possesses one. Pennsylvania has another. And this one coming to Mount Vernon is the Mt. Nebo Apron.

Magpie file photo
Click to enlarge.

The exhibit will run February 14 through 23, all day, and admission is part of the site’s general admission ticket price. From the publicity:

This Masonic apron was made in France and is believed to have been presented to George Washington at Mount Vernon in 1784 by the Marquis de Lafayette, a former general and close friend of Washington, who was also a Freemason. The apron features Masonic symbols, such as compasses and a square, together with the crossed flags of the United States and France, all exquisitely embroidered in silk and gold- and silver-wrapped threads with metallic sequins.

On view in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, Washington would have worn this apron when attending Masonic meetings. Thanks to a loan from the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge 91 of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, Mount Vernon has been able to display this special object on the national observance of George Washington’s birthday since 2011.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

‘Freemasonry and the Visual Arts’

“Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols….”

That snippet of ritual language differs from place to place; it sometimes goes “a peculiar system,” but the larger point about allegory and symbol is what matters. A study of Masonic thought vis-à-vis visual arts is a natural path to blaze, and fortunately a book was published last November that imparts the findings of more than a dozen scholars who examined the fine arts and material culture brought to fruition by and for Freemasonry around the world these past three centuries.

I’m embarrassed to admit I completely missed a roundtable discussion of this very book hosted last Friday at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, but you and I can profit from hearing from one of this book’s editors in three weeks when the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library will host Professor Reva Wolf for a lecture. From the publicity:

Symbols, Trade Cards, Portraits
and Figurines: Case Studies
at the Intersection of Freemasonry
and the Visual Arts
Thursday, February 27
6 to 8 p.m.
Masonic Hall
71 West 23rd Street, Manhattan
RSVP here

With the dramatic rise of Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, art played a fundamental role in its practice, rhetoric, and global dissemination, while Freemasonry, in turn, directly influenced developments in art. Professor Reva Wolf’s lecture provides an overview of diverse approaches to the study of Freemasonry and art, the wide range of art and places that its history encompasses, and some challenges inherent to the subject.

Prof. Reva Wolf
Reva Wolf is Professor of Art History at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she teaches courses on art of the eighteenth century to the present and on methods and history of art history. She received her Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and is the author of Goya and the Satirical Print (Godine, 1991), Andy Warhol, Poetry, and Gossip in the 1960s (University of Chicago Press, 1997), and numerous articles and essays. Her co-edited book, Freemasonry and the Visual Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward: Historical and Global Perspectives, was recently published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts. Professor Wolf has been awarded an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, and an NEH Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, among other fellowships, to support her research. She is a recipient of a State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

And about that book! Freemasonry and the Visual Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward: Historical and Global Perspectives is edited by Wolf and Alisa Luxenberg, and published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts. It’s an academic text, which is a nice way of saying it retails for more than a hundred bucks, so shop around.

It unites scholars, some of whom you’ve read about previously on The Magpie Mason—David Bjelajac, William Moore—to lead the reader on a tour of Europe, the New World, Near East, and beyond to document how art and architecture have been inspired by the Masonic mind.

“The enormously rich visual culture generated by Freemasonry has not received the attention it deserves from art historians,” says Professor Andrew Prescott of the University of Glasgow, no stranger to the educated Mason. “This pioneering collection of essays provides fascinating and tantalizing illustrations of the rich artistic legacy of Freemasonry in many different countries ranging from Europe and America to Haiti, Iran and India across media, including paintings, prints, metalwork, jewelry, ceramics, and architecture.”

The book’s contents include:

Freemasonry in Eighteenth-Century Portugal and the Architectural Projects of the Marquis of Pombal by David Martín López

The Order of the Pug and Meissen Porcelain: Myth and History by Cordula Bischoff

Goya and Freemasonry: Travels, Letters, Friends by Reva Wolf

Freemasonry’s “Living Stones” and the Boston Portraiture of John Singleton Copley by David Bjelajac

The Visual Arts of Freemasonry as Practiced “Within the Compass of Good Citizens” by Paul Revere by Nan Wolverton

Building Codes for Masonic Viewers in Baron Taylor’s Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France by Alisa Luxenberg

Freemasonry and the Architecture of the Persian Revival, 1843-1933 by Talinn Grigor

Solomon’s Temple in America: Masonic Architecture, Biblical Imagery, and Popular Culture, 1865-1930 by William D. Moore

Freemasonry and the Art Workers Guild: The Arts Lodge No. 2751, 1899-1935 by Martin Cherry

Picturing Black Freemasons from Emancipation to the 1990s by Cheryl Finley and Deborah Willis

Saint Jean Baptiste, Haitian Vodou, and the Masonic Imaginary by Katherine Smith

This lecture hosted by the Livingston Library will take place inside the Jacobean Room on the eighth floor of Masonic Hall—I guess in anticipation of a large crowd. Photo ID is required to enter the building. See you there.

Evidently, our library is in great hands! Congratulations to the Trustees and to Director Alex Vastola.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

‘An evening with Andrew Hammer’

No, this is not a win-a-dream-date with Andrew. He will be visiting New Jersey again next month for a speaking engagement. Kindly RSVP no later than February 28.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

‘A birthday look at Thomas Cole’

Self-Portrait, by Thomas Cole, 1836, oil on canvas.
Owned by New-York Historical Society.

“My Birthday. Once more has the Wheel of Life revolved [and] again advances on the untried road of Another Year.”

Thomas Cole

Speaking of 19th century American painters who were Ohio Freemasons (see post below), today is the 219th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Cole. He will be associated with New York forever, but it was Lodge of Amity 5 in Zanesville, Ohio where he became a Mason. Born in England, Cole emigrated to the United States in 1818 with his family, settling in Steubenville, Ohio.

It is the Hudson Valley of New York that is inextricably bonded to Cole the artist, thanks to his landscapes depicting, or otherwise inspired by, the scenic region.

Masonic messages are found in Cole’s works. These are not overt, but are recognizable by the initiated eye. I don’t think The Architect’s Dream is among those, but still is worth discussing:

In the distance, an Egyptian pyramid looms over Egyptian, Greek, and Roman temples while, in the foreground, a Gothic-style church juts from the trees. Oil on canvas, 1840.

Cole’s works associated with Masonic thought are his four The Voyage of Life oil-on-canvas paintings from 1842, showing Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age.

The Voyage of Life: Childhood

The Voyage of Life: Youth

The Voyage of Life: Manhood

The Voyage of Life: Old Age

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC holds and exhibits these paintings. Its website says:

Cole’s renowned four-part series traces the journey of an archetypal hero along the “River of Life.” Confidently assuming control of his destiny and oblivious to the dangers that await him, the voyager boldly strives to reach an aerial castle, emblematic of the daydreams of “Youth” and its aspirations for glory and fame. As the traveler approaches his goal, the ever-more-turbulent stream deviates from its course and relentlessly carries him toward the next picture in the series, where nature’s fury, evil demons, and self-doubt will threaten his very existence. Only prayer, Cole suggests, can save the voyager from a dark and tragic fate.

From the innocence of childhood, to the flush of youthful overconfidence, through the trials and tribulations of middle age, to the hero’s triumphant salvation, The Voyage of Life seems intrinsically linked to the Christian doctrine of death and resurrection. Cole’s intrepid voyager also may be read as a personification of America, itself at an adolescent stage of development. The artist may have been issuing a dire warning to those caught up in the feverish quest for Manifest Destiny, that unbridled westward expansion and industrialization would have tragic consequences for both man and nature.

‘Willard Masonic mural being restored’

The Spirit of ’76 by Archibald Willard, 1876, oil on canvas.
Click to enlarge.

Archibald Willard (1836-1918) was an early American artist whose name is not well remembered, but whose signature work is instantly recognizable. A historic figure in Ohio for sure, Willard created The Spirit of ’76 (above), as iconic a rendering in the American imagination as any.

He was a Freemason too and, like any dedicated artist in the fraternity, he painted Masonic themes for Masonic use. It is unknown precisely when, but approximately 1875 Willard created a mural for a lodge located in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The painting, in three sections spanning a total of 13 feet of canvas, depicts King Solomon’s Temple, and was used for degree instruction.

One section of the Masonic mural.

Last Saturday, The Chronicle reported how the work has been undergoing restoration, and that it will be returned for exhibit inside The Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington when complete. Mending tears and holes, and removing nearly a century and half worth of dirt is most of the difficult work being handled by experts at the Intermuseum Conservation Association in Cleveland.

Click here for more on the painting.

This project costs $34,000. A grant of $18,000 from a non-profit called the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) is being put to use, but you can donate by visiting here.