Crocker painting restored, unveiled

Linda Congdon, wife of Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon, and others in attendance, get their first looks Wednesday at the restored 1894 John Denison Crocker painting "Forge Brook Pond -  Poquetanuck."
Linda Congdon, wife of Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon, and others in attendance, get their first looks Wednesday at the restored 1894 John Denison Crocker painting "Forge Brook Pond - Poquetanuck." Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich - The $7,000 restoration of an 1894 John Denison Crocker painting donated years ago to the town of Preston did more than preserve a historic landscape view of "Forge Brook Pond - Poquetanuck" and give it a safe long-term home at Slater Memorial Museum.

The project enticed some Preston officials to revisit Slater Museum on the Norwich Free Academy campus for the first time in decades.

"I've been to the auditorium, but I haven't been (in the museum) since high school," said First Selectman Robert Congdon, a 1966 NFA graduate who coordinated the restoration effort. "It is a real gem to this area."

About 30 people attended a special reception to honor Preston for funding the restoration and for loaning the painting to the museum on a long-term basis. Along with town officials and residents, members of the Board of Trustees, NFA Foundation, the museum board and volunteers attended the unveiling and reception.

NFA Head of School David Klein thanked Preston for "trusting us" with the historic artwork that was donated to the town by Crocker's granddaughter, Mira R. Gager. A painting by Crocker of young Mira hangs in an adjacent gallery.

The Forge Brook Pond painting in a wide, gold-colored wooden frame depicts lush green trees, brush and grass, with water to the right and a large oak tree dominating the left of the canvas. A solitary hunter or fisherman is walking along the snaking dirt path. His dog runs ahead of him, sniffing at the bushes.

Gone are the cracks and water damage that scarred the canvas before the restoration. The thick varnish and film of dingy yellow cigarette smoke also have been removed. The ornate frame now, too, has all its intricacies and bright gold restored.

The painting had hung for years in a cramped and busy Town Hall conference room, just inches from the people sitting on a bench near that wall.

The painting now is hanging in a gallery titled "Living in Norwich," which features furniture, household belongings and artifacts a local family might have accumulated over generations of living in their home, Museum Director Vivian Zoe said.

Three other Crocker paintings hang in the gallery: the 1850 "Tracey Farm," a view of what the town looked like from the hilltop that now is home to several large department stores; an 1855 somewhat fictionalized view of Lantern Hill; and an 1847 depiction of "The Capture of Miantonomo," illustrating the Mohegan tribe's defeat of the Narragansett chief.

"So it's in good company," Zoe said.

The adjacent gallery holds Crocker's Norwich collection, featuring portraits of his family members. Slater has about 40 Crocker paintings. Zoe said the artist is among the most significant painters for this region. Along with other 19th century landscape artists, Crocker attempted to capture the fast-fading bucolic agricultural heritage of southeastern Connecticut as the Industrial Revolution was taking over.

"We're very thrilled that this has come to pass," said Linda Christensen, president of the Preston Historical Society.

"We're very glad that people's heads won't be leaning back into the painting. It's in a safe place, where people can come and see it. This is what we wanted all along."

"What better place can you have it?" Congdon said.

c.bessette@theday.com

SLATER MEMORIAL MUSEUM

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 1 to 4 p.m. weekends

Admission: $3 adults, $2 senior citizens, $1 students ages 12 to 18. Children under 12 admitted free.

Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon, left, his wife, Linda, and others in attendance wait to get a first look Wednesday at the restored 1894 John Denison Crocker painting
Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon, left, his wife, Linda, and others in attendance wait to get a first look Wednesday at the restored 1894 John Denison Crocker painting "Forge Brook Pond - Poquetanuck" at the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich. The painting had hung in Preston Town Hall for many years. it has been given on long-term loan to the museum in return for the restoration. The painting joins a considerable collection of Crocker work already at the museum. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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