BUCKSPORT, Maine — A 145-year-old painting is getting a new and more protected life in town these days.
The portrait of George Washington, painted in 1865 by local jeweler and clockmaker James Emery, is now hanging in the Town Council chambers after being moved from the unheated historical society building just down Main Street.
According to Town Manager Roger Raymond, the painting was a gift to the town from Emery and it had been hung in the Buck Memorial Library for a number of years before it was lent to the historical society in 1973.
“The painting sat on a shelf for all those years until someone who knows paintings was visiting and realized it was a valuable painting,” Raymond told town councilors last week. “They said that it was unfortunate that it was being allowed to deteriorate.”
When it was brought to his attention, Raymond said, he sent the painting to a local gallery for an appraisal to determine whether it was worth repairing.
“When I first saw it, the paint was raised in squares; it was all cracked,” he said. “It was quite deteriorated.”
He said the appraisal indicated the painting was “very valuable,” although he told councilors that he did not want to disclose the estimated value. In 2005, an Emery seascape was valued in auction at between $5,000 and $7,000.
Raymond sent the painting to the Liros Gallery in Blue Hill to be restored.
“This was a gift to the town from a local family,” he said, “We have a responsibility to make sure the painting is taken care of.”
Councilors agreed and last week approved the expenditure of $1,450 to cover the cost of having it repaired.
“It’s a great piece of the history of the town to have,” said Councilor Byron Vinton.
He suggested that the town obtain a display case that would further protect the painting for future generations.
According to documents collected by Buck Memorial Library librarian Geraldine Spooner, James Emery was originally from Belfast. He was born in 1819 and died in 1899. It appears that he had a difficult early life. His first wife died, and several of his children died at a young age, she said.
It is not clear when he moved to Bucksport, according to Spooner, but in the late 1840s, Emery built Linwood Cottage, the Main Street home, which still stands, set back from the road next to the post office parking lot. The home, which looks much as it did when it was built, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Later generations of the family were forced to move from Linwood Cottage because of poor finances, and in the 1940s, a funeral home operated on the premises. The house has since been returned to a private residence.
Emery worked in Bucksport as a jeweler, and, according to one website, as a clockmaker and apparently did quite well. Town records indicate that he owned what was known as the Emery Block, which was destroyed by fire in 1915, as well as another brick building on Main Street. An 1860s town directory indicates that Emery sold “jewelry, books and fancy goods.” His son James Robert Emery and grandson both carried on the business after Emery’s death.
Less seems to be known about Emery’s painting career. According to the website of the Oxford Gallery in Rochester, N.Y., his known paintings are of Maine, and some are in the collection of the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Va. The few paintings shown on gallery websites are seascapes, presumably depicting scenes along the Maine coast.
After Emery’s George Washington portrait was restored, it was hung on the wall of the council chambers. Initially, the town had agreed to return it to the historical society during summer months when the society’s museum is open. On Wednesday, Raymond said that after further discussions with the society, the town will keep it permanently.