TheNorthernLight

/November2008

11

paintedwallstookfirmholdaftertheRevolution-
aryWarasanalternativetowallpaper.

ItinerantartistandprolificmuralpainterRufus

Porter(1792-1884)pointedoutthedrawbackto
wallpaper,explainingthatitwas“apttogettorn
off,andoftenaffordsbehinditarestingplacefor
variouskindsofinsects.”Inaddition,paintcould
beappliedtowallsalmostassoonastheywere
built,whiletheapplicationofwallpaperrequired
thatsixmonthstoayearpassfirst,oritwouldpeel
off.

Duringtheearly1800s,inurbanareas,elegant

homeownersusedhigh-styleFrenchwallpapers
withelaboratelandscapescenes,buttheseweretoo
expensiveformostruralhomeowners.Apainted
mural,liketheonebyPoor,providedthesamekind
ofdesignatmuchlessexpense.

TheJonathanD.PoorMural

Themuseum’smuralwasoriginallypartofthe

homethatSilasBurbankhadbuiltinMountVer-
non,ME,in1820.Tenyearslater,Poorpaintedthe
house’sdiningroomandasmallstudyforabout
$20total(roughlyequalto$380today).

Executedinwhatisknownasalimewashfresco

technique—paintingonamoistplastersurface
withcolorsgroundupinalimewatermixture—
themuralispaintedonaplasterwallmadeoflime,
sandandhorsehair.

TheNationalHeritageMuseum’smuralis

signedbyitsartistwhichisunusual,asmostsimi-
larmuralsareunsigned.Themuralonviewinthe
VanGorden-WilliamsLibrary&Archivesisonly
onesectionfromtheoriginalroom’sfourpainted
walls.

Thisparticularsectionfeaturestheartist’ssigna-

tureinthecenterofthebottomhalf,“J.D.Poor

1830.”JonathanD.Poorwasbornin1807inBald-
win,ME,(nowknownasSebago),thesonof
JonathanPoor(1771-1864)andRuthPorter
(1780-1846).

RuthPorter’sbrotherwasthewell-knownitin-

erantpainterandinventor,RufusPorter,who
trainedyoungJonathantopaint.Uncleand
nephewalsoseemtohaveworkedtogetherona
numberofmuralsinNewEngland(mostlyin
MaineandNewHampshire).

RufusPorterworkedasanitinerantartistbe-

tween1815and1840,firstpaintingportraits,and
later,murals,throughoutthenortheasternUnited
States,andatleastasfarsouthasVirginia.

In1825,Porterpublishedanartinstruction

manual,CuriousArts,whichincludedasectionon
“LandscapePaintingonWallsofRooms.”Acre-
ativethinker,Porterdevelopedanumberofinven-
tivetime-andlabor-savingmethodstocreatehis
wallmurals.

Hisbiographer,JeanLipman,explainsthathe

wasthefirsttopopularizetheuseofacorkstopper
toproducefoliage,insteadofabrush.Healsoused
stencilsforhislandscapepaintings,notamethod
usedbyothers.

Porter’sthreemostcommonsceneswereharbor

views,mountainclimbingorhuntingscenes,and
farm-villagescenes.Characteristicsofhispaintings
includedbillowingroundclouds,clearreflections
ofobjectsinwater,sharpshadingofdarkenedsides
ofhousesandtrees,andoccasionalexoticdetails,
liketropicaltreesandvines.

Theselastelementsmighthavebeeninspiredby

atriptoHawaiiin1818and1819.Nephew
JonathanPoorincorporatedsomeofthesefeatures
intohisownwork—thesailboatsteeredbyaman
inatophatwasalsooneofPorter’spersonalsigna-
tures,accordingtoLipman,andisacharmingpart
ofthemuseum’smural.

Poorbegantravelingwithhisunclein1823,at

theageof16.Inadditiontothemuralnowowned
bytheNationalHeritageMuseum,Poor’ssigna-
tureappearsonapaintedfireboardinthecollec-
tionoftheShelburneMuseuminShelburne,VT;a
wallmuralinahouseinGroton,MA;andmore
than30wallmuralsinhomesinadozenMaine
towns.

Poordiedattherelativelyyoungageof38,sohis

industryinpaintingalloftheseworksbetweenthe
agesof16and38isadmirable,particularlysince
thereareundoubtedlyotherpaintingsinhishand
inhousesthathavesinceburntdownorbeende-
stroyed.Additionally,thereareprobablypaintings

Dedicationof

theMuralatthe

VanGorden-

Williams

Library&

Archives,Na-

tionalHeritage

Museum,

July18,2008.