A project to stabilize the 1764 Saunders House and restore and preserve the Howard Curtis murals on the second floor of this historic Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library building recently received $81,697 in Community Preservation Act money. from the city.
City Council approved funding for the historic preservation project at the library along with eight other Community Preservation Act projects in the latest round of funding late last month.
The money is 50-50 for a $163,395 project, according to library manager Jenny Benedict. The remaining amount is paid with library society funds.
In addition to restoring the Anderson Room murals, the project includes hiring a structural engineer, carpenter and mason to carry out structural repairs to the Saunders House, located around the corner from Dale Avenue and Middle Street.
Benedict said that deteriorated brickwork will be replaced and mortar joints reinforced in the knee walls of the building’s foundation, a rotting perimeter sill wood on the east side of the house will be replaced, the main stair hall will be reinforced and structural support will be added around four chimneys.
Conservation work on the well-known murals by Frederick L. Stoddard in the main hallway and staircase that began last year is part of a different project and is not included in the Community Preservation funding request. Act, Benedict said.
Stoddard’s murals were painted in 1934 as part of a Depression-era Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. They show the early seafaring culture of America’s oldest seaport against a backdrop of scenes of agrarian life.
Curator Lisa Mehlin of Essex is working on the restoration of the Stoddard murals as well as those in the Waldon J. Anderson Room on the second floor of the Saunders House.
The Anderson Room murals were completed in 1980 by Gloucester artist and educator Howard Curtis, who lived from 1906 to 1989 and had apprenticed with Stoddard. They show various sea fishing scenes, including Gloucester schooners fishing off northern Canada and Greenland surrounded by icebergs. The Anderson Room is used as office space for library staff.
Community Preservation Committee co-chair Matt Lundberg said the Community Preservation Act, which came into effect in 2000, allows communities to set up a local fund for things like historic preservation, open spaces, affordable housing and recreation.
“In that respect,” Lundberg said, “the Saunders house was an excellent house from our perspective.” He said the project ticks all the boxes, from being a historic asset that needs to be preserved to being offered by an organization capable of executing such projects responsibly. The committee also likes projects that have other sources of funding.
Benedict said the budget for the Saunders House stabilization project includes about $120,000 to stabilize the building, $17,000 to hire a structural engineer and the rest will pay for the restoration of the murals.
“It makes it much more possible to do projects like this,” Benedict said of the importance of Community Preservation Act funding. The work in progress will make it possible to carry out future restoration projects for the building in order to open it up and make it more accessible to the public, with meeting spaces and possibly an art gallery.
“It’s a crucial starting point,” Benedict said.
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or [email protected]
Personal Editor Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714 or by email at [email protected]