Illustrator and children’s-book writer Robert McCloskey is so beloved in Hamilton that community organizations are working to raise $40,000 to transport and restore six large murals McCloskey helped paint in 1939.
Each mural was created by artist Francis Scott Bradford (1898-1961) and each measures 13.5 feet by nearly 11 feet. All six depict scenes of Boston from the early decades of the 20th century.
The canvas murals were painted by Bradford with help from assistant artists McCloskey and Marc Simont (1915-2013), both of whom illustrated children’s books. McCloskey won the prestigious Caldecott Medal, while Simont, a political cartoonist, illustrated more than 100 children’s books.
The murals essentially will be a gift from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the stipulation the city will restore them and display them for the public.
McCloskey and the others painted the six works for the Boston-based Lever Brothers Co.’s Kendall Square headquarters. MIT bought the Lever Brothers’ building in the early 1950s to house its Sloan School of Management, where they remained until a major building renovation in 2013.
The local renown of McCloskey (1914-2003) has been on the rise this year since local artist Stephen Smith designed and led the painting of a mural at 20 High Street that celebrates some of McCloskey’s books.
McCloskey won prestigious Caldecott Medals — awarded the year’s best-illustrated children’s book — for “Make Way for Ducklings” (1942), and “Time of Wonder” (1958). He also received Caldecott Honors (for those that were close to winning medals) in 1949 (“Blueberries for Sal”); 1953 (“One Morning in Maine”); and 1954 (“Journey Cake, Ho!”). McCloskey also designed the bas reliefs on the exterior walls of Hamilton’s former municipal building at 20 High St.
School officials feared the amount of construction could severely damage the murals, so they put them into storage until a new home could be found. Also, the style of the paintings did not match the more modern redo of the MIT building.
MIT was unable to find anyone in the Boston area willing to take the murals, and reached out to museums, government agencies, businesses and the artists’ relatives.
“We’re currently working on the final place to showcase these murals,” City Manager Joshua Smith announced at Wednesday’s city council meeting. He said he has been working with “several civic and philanthropic organizations to provide the funding” to transport the murals to Hamilton.
“MIT, for the record, has been incredible to work with,” Smith said. “They want them to come home to Hamilton. Miami University of Oxford has graciously allowed us, when they do arrive, to store them in a climate-controlled facility until we can get them in the hands of the people who will be performing the restoration.”
One or two may end up on Miami University’s Hamilton campus, Smith noted, on a night that the council met on that campus, with students and faculty watching, as part of a week of events there to celebrate civic involvement.
Smith noted McCloskey’s work remains so popular in his adopted Boston that across the street from the exterior building that was shot as the location for the television show Cheers, “are the ducklings (sculptures) memorializing his book, ‘Make Way for Ducklings.’”
The cost of transporting the murals is estimated to be $3,300, with a total cost of restoration estimated to be $40,000, although it could be significantly less. If the city can’t raise money for the restoration, the city will ship the murals back to MIT at local cost, Smith said.
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