Mystery Painting Prompts Search for Answers

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

HE'S RESCUED the painting not once, but twice. Now that it's again on public display, political consultant and activist Scott Bartlett would like some help from the public.

He's sleuthing for some answers: Who were Ferris and Goethe, the artists who signed it? For what public location was it commissioned? And where is the setting of the lovers' picnic it depicts?

The restored, 5-foot-by-8-foot painting was formally unveiled by County Commissioner Bill Dwyer last month. (Dwyer joined Bartlett and others in underwriting the repair, remounting and reframing of the painting.)

Painted in a water-based tempera, it depicts a young couple in a mountaintop meadow against a backdrop of unlogged ridges. A 1920s vintage convertible sits at the right edge of the painting.

The painting now commands an entire wall at the Lane County Historical Museum - a far cry from the unceremonious spot where Bartlett first rescued it.

Rewind to 1981.

Bartlett, who had attended the University of Oregon in the mid-1960s, was back in town for a visit. He stopped by Collins Bike Shop, where he'd always admired the large painting that hung high on the wall. But the store had changed hands. The painting was gone.

When he asked about it, one of the new employees led him out behind the store.

Bartlett literally rescued the painting from the shop's Dumpster. He offered to buy it, threw it in the back of his pick-up and drove it over to show to Barbara Zentnor, then curator of the UO Art Museum.

Zentnor, who has since died, told Bartlett that it was probably painted by a Works Progress Administration artist during the Great Depression.

He donated the painting to what was then called the Lane County Pioneer Museum, which displayed it near an antique automobile. Eventually, museum officials removed the painting to a storage area, however, after noticing that visiting schoolchildren were damaging the already frail canvas by poking their fingers into its rips and tears.

By the mid-1990s, Bartlett was back in Eugene and noticed the painting's absence. He began talking with current museum director Ed Stelfox about restoring the painting and returning it to public display.

Last fall, Jan Cavanaugh, an art conservator and former director of the Reed College Art Gallery, came to the University of Oregon to teach a course in art conservation.

Cavanaugh, who has a private painting restoration practice, agreed to take on the project at about half the usual fee. …