2011-03-03 / News

Historical society makes its first painting purchase

By Geoff Campbell

The Jamestown Historical Society recently acquired a painting by Francis West, a resident of Jamestown for 65 years, who died in 1971 at the age of 90.

The society’s interest in the painting was piqued because it was by a Jamestowner, of a Jamestown scene, and it was painted in a Jamestown studio.

Former society president and current secretary Rosemary Enright said that the painting was brought to the attention of the historical society last September by Richard Donnelley, the owner of Richard’s Antiques and Arts in Barrington. Donnelley had purchased the painting at auction.

Donnelley asked if the society wanted to purchase the painting for its collection at a cost of $1,650. He brought the painting to Jamestown where the Jamestown Historical Society’s Collections Committee had assembled a group of local experts to examine the painting.

Jamestowners Harry Wright, a historian, Josie Wright, an artist, and Jim Buttrick, a collector, deemed the painting suitable for acquisition in spite of paint board warping in one corner and a substantially damaged frame.

Prompted by the collections committee to assess the potential cost of restoring the painting, Donnelley took the painting to a conservator who noted that the face of the painting had been covered in a coat of polyurethane.

Negotiations began. After numerous phone calls and conversations between Enright and Donnelly, the two parties agreed on $1,080, the same price that Donnelley paid for it originally.

The historical society, assisted by an anonymous donor who donated half of the cost, rearranged its budget and acquired the painting.

While the society’s cost represents less than 15 percent of acquisition line item in the budget, additional funds need be raised from donors seeking to help specifi cally with reframing and repairing the warped paint board.

Unfortunately, the removal of the coat of polyurethane may prove impossible to do, Enright said.

Enright said that Francis West focused mostly on marine landscapes and ship scenes. According to documents obtained from the Newport Art Museum and Art Association, West’s work was regularly exhibited at the Newport Art Association from 1938 to 1962. It was also featured in group shows and in four one-man shows held in 1940, 1942, 1945 and 1948.

West worked in watercolor and oil. One piece, titled “Struggle,” was exhibited in a 1942 group show and was awarded “The People’s Prize,” according to Newport Art Association records.

The Jamestown Historical Society vault also holds a miniature pastel by West. The painting is likely of 1930’s J-boats. It was a gift of the estate of E. Robinson and the painting carries the label of West’s studio, Red Elephant Studios.

Red Elephant Studios was located at 83 Cole Street in a house originally built Dr. V. Mott Francis in 1883, according to historian Sue Maden. The house, named the Castle, has a turret on the southwestern corner of the structure.

Other titles of paintings by West include “British Dreadnaught,” “John Paul Jones in his Glory,” and “Venice.”

West – who was born Francis X. Polusney on Feb. 3, 1881 – is the father of 95-year-old Jamestowner

Jimmy West. The younger West, in an article published last October, said that in the 1920s he was “working for his artist father, who was also an interior designer and a house painter.”

According to society records, the Jamestown Directory of 1915 listed his profession as “ordinance man” and in 1936 as “artist.” West was a Spanish-American War veteran, who lied about his age in order to join the war effort, according to his son.

The vault, which houses files, photos, textiles, a portion of the 1941 Jamestown Bridge railing, and collections of all kinds, also hosts other paintings. However, before now, the historical society has never purchased a painting.

While the society has a number of paintings in its collection, they were gifts from families and estates. Paintings are not routinely sought by the group because collecting art is not typically the primary focus of a historical society’s collection. Proper storage and maintenance are an added challenge. The question becomes, she asked, “Where do we keep it and how do we care for it?”

As the Jamestown Historical Society is “dedicated to preserving and promoting interest in Jamestown’s past,” it continues to find ways to engage members of the community.

The acquisition of the West painting is just one example of preserving Jamestown’s past.

Among continuing efforts to fulfill the society’s mission and to promote interest in Jamestown’s history, Enright and Madden are preparing to do a 15-minute television show on a local cable access channel, which will be titled “From the Vault.”

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