Twenty-two additional paintings by Archibald Willard, including two versions of his most famous painting, are now on display at the Spirit of ‘76 Museum.
As the ribbon was cut on the attraction April 12, those in attendance had to be asking themselves whether the timing could be any better.
While Wellington celebrates its bicentennial, the museum is in the midst of its 50th anniversary and preparing to recognize the 100th anniversary of Willard’s passing later this year.
Dan Zivco, an art collector from Cleveland, has loaned the paintings to the museum through the end of its season in October.
In fact, Zivco loaded every painting into an SUV and personally delivered them, said museum director Scott Markel.
“We’re very proud of what we managed to pull off here,” Markel said. “Everyone is just kind of in awe of the way everything came together. It was a real team effort among our staff, easily 40 hours of work setting the exhibit up.”
Through a sponsorship by King Realty, the exhibit has been put together at no cost to the museum, Markel said.
One painting of “The Spirit of ‘76” thought to have been given to President Ulysses S. Grant by Willard in 1876 at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia highlights the collection, along with a large portrait entitled “Off To Civil War,” which illustrates a Union soldier kissing his wife goodbye.
The Centennial International Exhibition, held in Philadelphia, was the first official World’s Fair in the Unites States and recognized the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Other pieces include alternate versions of paintings already at the museum, such as “Pluck I” and “Pluck II,” as well as landscapes and portraits new to Wellington.
“By the size and characteristics of the painting, we’re very confident Willard promised it to Grant,” said museum president Tim Rolfe. “Willard never painted two of them exactly the same. Tonight is just awesome. We’re all so ecstatic. We couldn’t wait to get this open. It’s a perfect storm considering all the significant dates that have come up this year. Everything lined up perfectly and we jumped on it.”
Attendees at the unveiling included mayor Hans Schneider, current and former museum board members, as well as village councilmen Gene Hartman, Keith Rowland, and Mark Bughman.
Schneider recently returned from a trip to Marblehead, Mass., where a “The Spirit of ‘76” version is on display in the city’s town hall. Many experts consider it to be the original.
Approximately 20 versions of the painting are known to exist.
“These paintings are just moving,” Schneider said. “People get a sense of pride and a sense of Americana in the presence of this kind of work. We look to the past for those inspirational things. That’s a world-renowned picture and it’s amazing that it was done here in Wellington.”
Admission to the museum is free and open to the public from 1-3:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday though October, except Aug. 20 to 26 during the Lorain County Fair.
“Our goal, from this point on, is to share this with the world,” Markel said. “So many people have stepped up to make this happen and we want as many people as possible to take a look.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.