In March, 2012, the museum purchased a glorious mural painting of New London Harbor Light by Griffith Baily Coale (1890-1950), and the painting's owner, Hiram Hoelzer, then donated the sister painting: a view of 19th-c Mystic/Stonington Harbor and the ship Cynosure of Stonington. These are the two remaining panels of a tryptich (shown at top) Mr. Coale painted in 1936-7 for the Dry Dock Savings Institution in New York City (the middle panel was destroyed in the demolition of the building). Thank you Mr. Hoelzer! The lighthouse painting was purchased by the New London Harbor Lighthouse Fund.
Born in Baltimore, Griffith Baily Coale was an artist know for his marine scenes. He ended up living in Stonington, in a whaling captain's house, and for a time he was president of the Stonington Historical Society. We thank Mary Beth Baker, director of the SHS, for directing Mr. Hoelzer's family to us. Hiram Holezer wanted the paintings to come back to this area.
The murals are large--each eight feet wide and eighteen feet high.
Gay Myers, the painting conservator, above, took a look. She discovered that both paintings have had extensive restoration work done and are in pretty good shape. Initially, they were installed by adhering the canvases to the plaster wall (the adhesive can be seen on the back of the canvas).
The mural, left, also was painted by Griffith Baily Coale at another site in New York: Broad Street was constructed in 1928-29 as the Headquarters of the Lee-Higginson Bank and is recognized today as "the most impressible building on Broad Street." The Lee, Higginson Bank Building contains works by two noted artists, Leo Friedlander (sculpture) and Griffith Baily Coale (mural), each of whom contributed works that add to the significance of the building.
A postcard image, ca. 1936, of the original Griffith Baily Coale mural Safe Haven.
We received this information on the artist from the Stonington Historical Society:
Coale left the Navy in 1947 with the rank of commander and returned to his home in New York and Stonington, Ct., where he lived at 73 Water Street. [Not sure when first came to Stonington but maybe in the 1920s – during time of his first marriage….] "Griff," as he was called, was very important to the Historical Society. He became a trustee before the war, and afterwards, he was elected president. It was Coale who raised the money to buy the Ocean Bank Building and who set as a priority the care of the Society’s collections at the Lighthouse Museum. Many important objects were acquired and conserved during his short tenure, including the Stonington Battle Flag (conserved) and the acquisition of the portrait of Mary Burtch Brewster, famous for her journal of life aboard a whale ship. It was a blow when he died in 1947, age 60. The mural you are calling "Mystic" may really be "Stonington Borough." Although the church looks like the one on the hill in Mystic, other buildings are identifiable to the Borough (I am told) but maybe the real clue is the ship Cynosure. But perhaps you have some other documentation on it? Coale was not usually literal with his interpretation of historical scenes. Anyway, according to Palmer’s Stonington by the Sea, the Cynosure was hijacked and converted to a slaver between Africa and South America, something that apparently happened fairly often, sometimes on purpose! The owner was John F. Trumbull. I wonder why Coale chose that particular ship – maybe he just liked the name.
Griffith Baily Coale lived, from about 1920 until his death in 1947 at age 60, in Stonington, CT.
We were fortunate to have borrowed six reels of microfilm from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art several months ago. When we finally got the murals and looked at the microfilm, they turned out to be copies of Griffith Baily Coale's papers, including the entire correspondance dealing with the commission of these murals.
Here is what the artist, in Stonington, wrote to Andrew Wills, Jr., president of the Drydock Savings Bank, on July 13, 1936.
Dear Mr. WIlls:
I am hard at work on the two inch to a foot color study of "Safe Haven". It is coming along very well and there is a wealth of material here to use...
People in Stonington have identified various buildings in the mural's harbor as coming from both Mystic and Stonington Borough.
The lighthouse is New London Harbor Light, albeit with one (not two) chimneys.
Written by the Artist:
A Mural Painting by
Griffith Baily Coale
The mural painting which decorates the banking room in the main office of the Dry Dock Savings Institution on Lexington Avenue and 59th Street is symbolic of any goal or venture in life -- a Safe Haven in the end.
The scene is typical of a port on the eastern seaboard in the 1840s, the distant island making a good lee, the narrow rocky entrance with the lighthouse, the breakwater with its beacon, and the wooden town shaded by great trees rambling along the fore shore.
At dawn the great ship made her landfall - the seaward side of the blue distant island. All morning, the becalmed, sea-weary passengers watch the land grow closer slowly, very slowly. By the forenoon, with the air still light and the ebb running full against the ship, she seems scarcely to have steerage way. Eight bells - noon - lunch of short bad rations, the water warm and foul for the voyage had been long. The deafening clap of the slattering sails, the staccato drum of the reef points - by now all had forgotten that cry early the same morning - Land Ho!
Now imperceptibly the end of the island comes abeam, and the company hear the slow timed distant roar of the ground swell on the rocky point. Ahead in the sultry autumn afternoon, clear cut as a silhouette, stretches the mainland. The lighthouse is pointed out! The harbor mouth! The church spire! Down a fitful little breeze, to the ship's deck crowded with emigrants, to the cabin passengers on the poop, comes that sweet warm smell of land.
Then so near, all air ceases. and the ship sits heavily on a sheet of glass, reflected as deep below as she towers aloft. In the oppressive heat her sails hang motionless form the yards. Astern an ominous thunderhead towers into the still heavens above the helpless ship. The tide is now flowing full and with it comes the storm. On a lee shore with a flood tide and no wind, the captain stands watching on the poop. No one speaks. A child cries, is hushed. The captain gives a low order. The mate bellows. Men jump for the pins, men go down, sails clew up. There is a breath from the stern - a little gust - a sudden breeze. Catspaws on the surface, and suddenly small short waves and whitecaps. The ship is alive, the great topsails and courses awake and fill with a booming. Now the lighthouse is abeam, now a tall column astern, white against the glowering shore. The gulls scream and swirl like autumn leaves, the thunder increases. So through the narrow entrance and into the ever widening harbor moves the ship. The breakwater is by, with small coasters snuggling fast behind her. The whaling bark dips her colors. A loud reverberation of thunder salutes her and echoes down the streets. The broad inner harbor is reached, and well-manned, she wares to weather in a wide circle; goes to winward slower, slower, stops, and with a roar both her bower anchors are let go! She quivers, moves with increasing wind astern, quietly brings up on her long scope - sung below and aloft. The wind howls through her cordage, rain sweeps her decks in sheets, lightening lights her naked spars, but her passengers snugly below are calm in the sheltered waters, for through the fine management of her crew, they are in Safe Haven.
The murals originally were unveiled at the Dry Dock Savings Institute on April 30, 1937 -- almost exactly seventy-five years ago.
Hiram Holzer sent the photo, below, of the complete mural tryptich as installed in 1937.