What was once stored in a dusty corner of a closet in the office of the city clerk – a curiosity – could soon find a home as a centerpiece to City Hall thanks to the work of a Warwick woman who has an affinity for the city and the Village of Apponaug in particular.
“I’m from North Attleboro,” says Amie Hannon Boesch, as if it were some distant land. As a child she often visited her grandmother who lived in Apponaug, and later, after graduating from Rhode Island College, she worked for about 20 years at West Bay Residential Services. Then her life took a dramatic turn. She married and became pregnant all within a month. She imagined she would return to West Bay following the birth of her daughter, Ruby, but she found she didn’t want to leave home.
“I realized I was never going back,” Boesch said Friday outside her home off Division Street. Outside the modest home were sections of granite curbing and other building materials. “We’re pushing out the kitchen wall and those,” she said, indicating the curbing “will be used to line the drive.”
Faced with being home, Boesch tapped another of her skills to supplement the family budget. Trained in historic preservation at Roger Williams University, she did an apprenticeship with Roy Collins of Vagabond Portfolio, who specializes in restoration work. She started cleaning and restoring art works, a job that allowed her to stay at home and be close to her daughter.
And now she finds herself working on a project that, while not historically significant, promises to bring an old time feeling in a really big way. It’s a big painting – really a mural – that stands 42 inches high and is 12 feet long.
When pulled from the closet last year, the mural was in three sections. There is no doubt of the location. A horse-drawn trolley swings through the middle of the scene with the bell tower of City Hall in the background. A lady carrying a parasol crosses the street in the direction of the Apponaug Hotel, where the Pawtucket Credit Union is today, and in the lower right corner bubbles the raised water fountain that once stood at the Four Corners. The fountain can still be found in the village at Dorothy Mayor Park next to St. Barnabas Church.
Jan Marshall, who worked in the clerk’s office, was intrigued by the mural’s origin. She made inquiries, but no one remembered seeing it or knew why it had been stuffed in the closet. There was speculation that it could have been done during the Depression by the same artist who painted the mural in the Apponaug Post Office. Another theory surfaced that Cap Epstein, who painted the scene of a horse-drawn fire truck on the exterior wall of the Lakewood Fire Station, was the artist. She said she wasn’t when reached at her home in Texas.
One lead after another ended in a dead end until, responding to a story in the Beacon, Mike Ferrante recalled the mural from the Mr. Donut coffee shop in Apponaug. The coffee shop stood where Walgreens is today and, according to Ferrante, the mural was painted around 1974. Ferrante doesn’t know the name of the artist, but recalls personally assisting in its removal when the business was sold.
Ferrante wasn’t the only person following the story of the mural. Collins was, too.
Early this year, he called the Beacon asking who he could contact at City Hall about restoring the work. He made it clear he was proposing to take on the project at little or no cost to the city. Collins turned to Boesch, agreeing to pay for materials if she took on the work.
“He called and said we should do that thing,” she remembers.
That’s where Boesch’s affinity to Apponaug and Warwick came into play. She agreed without even having seen the mural.
At this point Violet Major, who works in the clerk’s office, assumed the mantle of keeper of the mural. She has made it her goal to have the mural on public display in City Hall by the time she retires in December.
From the progress Boesch has made, the mural could make a return much sooner. So far, the most painstaking work has been the removal of glue and plaster from the back of the fabric-backed vinyl wallpaper on which it was painted. Boesch has remounted the mural on a board, matching the sections so that it is one. Using swabs and a combination of chemicals, she has started cleaning the yellowed mural of grease and cigarette smoke. The patch she has done required about two hours and offers a glimpse to the vibrancy the scene must have once reflected.
She’s had some help from her niece, Andrea Vaughan, a student at the Met School in Providence, and she and her husband have a plan to transport the restored mural on a truck rack. It could be done in a couple of weeks.
Thinking back to when she first saw the mural, she said it exceeded her expectations.
“It’s definitely worth it,” she said.
It has also become something she enjoys.
“It’s my passion to bring new life to old things,” she said.
Major has taken out the measuring tape. She knows just where she would like to see the mural displayed. The spot she has chosen in the clerk’s office would give the public a window to the past as fresh as the day it was painted.