There is still time to save two murals at the James Prendergast Library.
Last November, renovation plans for the library were announced during a public meeting. The first phase of the proposed renovations will focus on making the library compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes upgrading a freight elevator to a passenger one and installing five restrooms to improve family use and accessibility. It also includes upgrades to the children’s room and the creation of a new teen space. The second phase of the project includes renovations to the children’s room entrance, improvements to the first-floor circulation and the creation of a new stair-and-balcony connector for the second-floor space created by the first phase.
Unfortunately in upgrading the library, two murals painted by David L. Lawrence could be destroyed during the renovation process. Lawrence was a regional artist who at one time had four murals on display in the Jamestown area, said Charlie Lawrence, David’s son who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. According to Lawrence, the last murals still on public display are the ones at the library.
Tina Scott, James Prendergast Library director, said the murals were painted and glued to walls at the library in 1963. Scott said, while preparing for the renovations, they brought in a curator from JCC to determine if the murals could be removed from the wall.
“He said no because of the way they were put on,” Scott said.
At that point, Scott said library officials contacted Lawrence’s family to inform them they would not be able to remove the artwork intact.
“We let the family know we were more than happy to give them high-quality photographs of the murals,” she said.
On March 4, library officials hosted another informative meeting about the renovations. At the meeting, Charlie Lawrence spoke to library officials about giving the family more time to try and save the artwork.
“I asked the library not to go through with their plan. I asked if they would work with us to come up with a solution to preserve them,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence, who is the president of The Music Settlement in Cleveland’s University Circle, said he is connected with the Intermuseum Conservation Association, which is based in the Cleveland area and are renowned art preservers.
“When we were alerted by the library I was able to connect with the association. I asked if someone trained in (preservation) could look at them,” Lawrence said. “(This) week, someone will look at the murals.”
Adding to the artwork being examined by a professional preserver is that there is now more time. The plans had been to start construction on April 14 for the first phase of the project. However, Scott said because of construction costs being higher than expected, the project will not start until June.
“We are working with our architect (Clark Patterson Lee Design Professionals) to reduce the costs. This will allow for more in-depth analysis of the murals,” she said.
Scott said library officials understand the Lawrence family’s feelings on saving the artwork. However, the library expansion is important to the community.
“We understand it is difficult for them (Lawrence family), no question,” she said. “I think we know this is an opportunity for us to use the building and have the space for the community. Opening areas to families will allow us to expand our children’s room, and the restrooms are very important for access. It is 2014 and we only have one restroom way in the back that is handicapped-accessible.”
Other members of Lawrence family fighting to save the artwork include Sara Skillman of Dewittville; Emily Colo of Annandale, N.J.; Wendy Richards of Lexington, Va.; and Brian Lawrence of Concord, Ohio. Charlie Lawrence, who still visits the Jamestown area often, said his father was a well-known regional artist, he was not a nationally known artist. He said that it is important for areas to preserve their own art.
“I think one of the things to preserve in a community is its unique culture,” he said. “What is art and creative expression is decided by each community.”