k In December, the Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) unveiled a new addition to the museum. The Poestenkill Lion returned to the museum after some conservation work and for the first time was displayed on the museum’s walls.
The lion first came to RCHS in 2011, when long-time RCHS supporters Hughes and Eva Gemmill donated the painting, which dates to about 1840 and is by an unknown artist. The lion was thinly painted with milk paint on four wide unfinished wood boards.
Discovered a number of years ago during the demolition of a summer kitchen in a house in Poestenkill, the lion was almost lost to history. The dismantled wood was slated to be used as firewood. Before these four boards were burnt however, the Gemmills noticed a bit of color peeking out from underneath layers of plaster and wallpaper. After some careful removal of the plaster and wallpaper, the complete image of the lion appeared.
The Gemmills did find evidence of at least one other animal. RCHS also has in its collection the small fragments of wood that depict another animal, possibly a leopard, which came from the same space. It is possible that there were more animal figures on other boards that did not survive.
Once the Gemmills had the complete painting of the lion, they hung the four boards over their bed, until they decided to donate the painting to RCHS.
The image of this lion is likely based on a printed or painted illustration in a Bible or one of a number of popular depictions of “The Peaceable Kingdom”, such as those done by American artist Edward Hicks (1780-1849).
Given the location where the painting was found, it is possible that this image is an early effort of the well-known Rensselaer County folk artist, Joseph H. Hidley (1830-1872), who decorated a number of houses in Poestenkill and is better known today for his townscapes. Further research is needed to make an attribution.
In 2014, the Greater Hudson Heritage Network awarded a grant of $2,500 to RCHS to cover the painting’s conservation costs. The conservation work was conducted by Anne O’Connor of O’Connor Art Conservation in the Berkshires and focused on minor repairs to the wooden boards and creating a framing device so the painting can be placed on display for the public to enjoy at the Rensselaer County Historical Society’s museum.
• Consolidating flaking paint
• Cleaning the surface to remove dust and loose grime
• Removing modern nails from the face of the paining
• Repairing a vertical split in the upper board and repairing a horizontal split in the bottom board which was causing severe warping.
• Creating a unique frames that allows the individuals wooden boards to move and flex as needed but also to hold all four boards together so the painting can be displayed
Executive Director, Ilene Frank, says “everyone at RCHS is thrilled to be able to bring this charming piece of Rensselaer County folk art out to the public, so everyone who comes through our doors can enjoy his smiling face.”
The painting is expected to be on exhibit for at least a year at the Rensselaer County Historical Society at 57 Second Street, in Troy NY.