Warwick Historian Henry Brown has provided a big piece to the puzzle of a mural found in the city’s archives.
After reading a Beacon story about the mural, and how Jan Marshall in the City Clerk’s office is seeking a grant to preserve it, Brown identified the artist as Kay Epstein, who lived in Buttonwoods in the early ’80s and has since moved south.
Marshall was ecstatic to get the information, as she doesn’t stand much of a chance of winning a grant to preserve the artwork without it. Like a detective intent on breaking a case, every lead has offered new insights but also raised additional questions. Knowing Epstein is the artist is a major breakthrough for the case.
The hunt started this spring, when Marshall recalled City Clerk Marie Ahlert telling her three sections of canvas were rolled up and sitting in her office closet. Ahlert found them years earlier, while going through boxes in the archives. Rather than leave them there, she thought the closet offered additional security for the work.
The mural, depicting a turn of the 20th century Apponaug Four Corners, features the Apponaug Hotel, on the corner now occupied by Pawtucket Credit Union, with the City Hall tower in the distance, and a horse-drawn trolley turning onto Post Road toward East Greenwich. The mural is in three panels. A portion, presumably where the artist signed it, is missing. It looks deliberately cut out.
Following the first Beacon story, Mike Ferrante, who worked in Apponaug for years, reported that he knew the mural intimately. He remembered it from his childhood, when his father brought him to Mr. Donut, the coffee shop and bakery that stood where Walgreens is. The mural was on the north wall of the shop so that, when looking out the window, one was looking from the same vantage as the mural.
As a boy, Ferrante was fascinated with this look back into time but that was not the limit of his relationship with the mural, which he believes was painted about 1975, in time for the bicentennial celebration. After Mr. Donut was sold, its owner removed the mural, leaving it in a utility room. When the shop was sold again, the new owner called on Ferrante to remount it on the wall. The missing sections, it turned out, were cut out for utility outlets.
Ferrante didn’t recall the artist’s name but thought it might have been Paul Sample. It is known that Sample painted the mural of Apponaug Cove in the Post Office in 1942 and is renowned for WPA art works in several states. Sample, however, died the year before the mural is said to be commissioned for Mr. Donut. Now that information has been put to the side while Marshall is intent on locating Epstein.
“We have to hurry,” said Marshall on Thursday, “because she’s in her 80s.”
Marshall researched land records in hopes of finding when Epstein sold her Warwick property and clues as to where she moved. In addition to a scene painted on the exterior boarded wall of the former Lakewood fire station, which Brown pointed out is an “Epstein,” Marshall thinks she may have also done a mural in the Ladd School.
In an e-mail to Marshall, Brown recalls stopping at Epstein’s studio. Brown called her a gifted artist. “She and I were good friends as we had two sons each attending Bishop Hendricken High,” he wrote. Brown believes she moved to either North or South Carolina.
Marshall plans to keep on digging and casting for grants. Michael Holland, who owned and operated Holland Gallery, looked the work over and estimated it would cost less than $3,000 to restore and frame.
Marshall’s hope is to connect with Epstein and get the story of the mural in her words. She expects to get some rejections in her hunt for a preservation grant, but that doesn’t daunt her.
“Someone’s ‘No’ is somebody else’s ‘Yes,’” she said.
As for what should become of the mural, Ahlert would like to see it mounted on the wall in the clerk’s office, where the public could view it. Ironically, the wall she is thinking of also faces north, the same direction in which it was painted and only a few blocks away from where it once was.