Wall Murals from the Rufus Porter School
Jonathan D. Poor: James Norton house, East Baldwin, Maine
Jonathan D. Poor, Rufus Porter's nephew, apprenticed under Porter and learned the techniques necessary to
paint intricate landscapes. Like the murals from the Howe house, these too are a rare example of signed murals.
The James Norton house murals are the best examples of Poor's work at the height of his painting career and
are superb addition to the Museum's collections. Decorated walls are part of the context of historic houses.
These walls have importance as signed examples of a typically anonymous form of American Folk Art. Not
only are they rare survivals but are additionally recognized as among the best extant examples. For more
information on Jonathan Poor's murals read "Rediscovering the Murals of Jonathan D. Poor" written by
museum member Jane Radcliffe.
The Norton murals are the most significant painted walls in Maine, being signed and dated 1840 and recognized
as the best example of the work of Jonathan Poor. It is rare to find murals in original condition with no restoration, and to have the most important ones in this condition is remarkable. They were deemed to have such significant artistic value and it was felt they should be in a position to be accessible to the public, and safely protected from any chance of vandalism or lack of proper care. Although the philosophy of the museum, and most preservationists, is to keep all wall murals in their original setting, each case has to be evaluated separately. The Norton set of three rooms of murals were deemed to be in danger by everyone involved in this project: the current owners, the museum personnel and all preservationists involved.
The house itself was rescued in 1986 by Glenn and Norma Haines, primarily to prevent any further damage to the murals as moisture from a leaky roof was damaging the paint on the murals. The original house frame, over time and for a variety of reasons, had been shifting. Located just 15 feet from railroad tracks, damage from vibrations and an unstable foundation made the walls the most fragile ever encountered with severe cracking of the plaster throughout. Amazingly, the most beautiful of the scenes are relatively free of water damage or severe stress fractures. As moving the house was not an option, the Haines reluctantly reached the conclusion that the best security for the
future was to have the walls installed in the Rufus Porter Museum. They had consulted
with other residents in the local town and the historical society who also concurred. As the
time when they could protect the walls had come to an end, they wanted assurance that the
remarkable art they loved would continue to amaze others on public view for future
generations. The Haines donated the walls to the museum in 2012, along with all relevant
woodwork, stairs, floors and windows. The museum paid for the restoration of the house,
which was then sold.
The removal was led by David Ottinger from Arlington, Mass, who is experienced in
antique wall removal. Moving the murals entailed removal of all the plaster, lathing
and woodwork in two upstairs rooms, hallway, and the entire staircase, so when
reinstalled in the new facility itwill appear as in the original setting.
“This project affords a unique opportunity to see how the relationship of the architectural
details interacts with the wall paintings. The prospect of preserving the connection between three muraled rooms and a “good morning” stairway is very exciting” says Ottinger.