Old North Church work uncovers decorative wall art

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/16/old-north-church-work-uncovers-decorative-wall-art/

BOSTON – Boston’s historic Old North Church is uncovering ornate paintings unseen in more than a century with an $8 million renovation that started earlier this year – the church’s third major renovation in its nearly 300-year history.

Part of the work on the North End neighborhood structure – known best for the tower where Paul Revere’s two lamps were placed to signal the British army’s movements toward Lexington and Concord on April 18, 1775 – will be to undo an earlier paint job.

Built in 1723, the city’s oldest surviving church received a whitewash in 1912, a treatment popular during the colonial revival architectural phase of the early 20th century. But the interior walls of the sanctuary had previously been decorated with paintings of cherubs and patterns.

The Old North Foundation of Boston, which cares for the site, received $46,000 from the National Park Service to update its historic structures report that contains the history of updates to the church, and will aid in keeping the national landmark up to required standards.

“We are grateful for this grant, which will help Old North as we prepare for a major restoration of the church in anticipation of our 300th birthday in 2023,” Stephen Ayres, the executive director of the Old North Foundation, said in a statement. The Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Freedom Trail Foundation and an anonymous foundation also donated to the project.

Historic preservation consultants Brian Powell and Melissa McGrew are analyzing the interior paint – peeling through layers from past centuries to obtain samples – through early March, according to the church’s website.

The last analysis of the structure was conducted by the National Park Service in 1978, and the latest one will springboard off of that and aid in determining historical decorative patterns for the church’s interior. Study results will guide a repainting project three years down the road before the church’s 300th anniversary celebration and Paul Revere’s 250th ride anniversary in 2025.

“The study in 1978 showed there’s a possibility and this reveals it,” Renie Pavilon, director of development at the Old North Foundation said of the wall decorations, like a cherub that was uncovered in the past few weeks. “We are scratching the surface, literally and figuratively.”

She said it is unclear whether the paint study will lead to stripping of newer to paint to display the original ornate paintings, or whether it will simply guide a new layer of paint to reflect historic standards.

According to the website:

“This project will be the second visit by Building Conservation Associates to Old North. Twelve years ago, senior analyst Brian Powell, surveyed Old North’s windows prior to their complete restoration. The buff colored paint now adorning the windows reflects the original color used in 1723.”

Although visitors can inquire about the research at the Episcopal church, study results are shared intermittently on the Old North social media pages and will be shared in a public lecture scheduled for May, 2016.

The interior of the Old North Church sanctuary as it looked in 1905. (Photo courtesy of Old North Foundation of Boston)

The interior of the Old North Church sanctuary as it looked in 1905. (Photo courtesy of Old North Foundation of Boston)

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.