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Sanbornton Public Library seeks community's help in restoring historic painting

Sanbornton Public Library is seeking donations for the restoration of a painting of the Alfred Burleigh family, done in 1862 by prominent Sanbornton portrait artist Walter Ingalls, so it can once again be placed on display in the library. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
November 07, 2018
SANBORNTON – Sanbornton Public Library is seeking help from citizens, businesses and private foundations for a very special project — the restoration of an 1800's portrait of the Alfred Burleigh family, painted by famed portrait artist Walter Ingalls.

Library Director Marcia Haigh said the painting, once on display in the library, has been in storage for many years. It was recently "re-discovered" and since time has taken a slight toll on its appearance, the board decided it would be great to have it restored in time for the town's 250th Anniversary in 2020.

They have received an estimate of $2,700 for the restoration from Martha Cox of Great Works Restoration in Shapleigh, Maine and are now busy seeking donations to have the work done.

The Burleigh family, comprised of Alfred, his wife Emeline, and George, the only one of three children to survive infancy, are the subjects of the painting and were members of some of Sanbornton's earliest families. Emeline was the daughter of Col. Daniel Sanborn who commanded a regiment of the New Hampshire State Militia, was a schoolteacher and a member of the Sanbornton Congregational Church for 44 years.

While it is not clear why the painting was commissioned nor how much, if anything, the Burleigh's paid to have it done, it is never the less a quite lifelike and compelling look at a Sanbornton family in 1862.

Ingalls also spent most of his life in the town. Born in Canterbury in 1805, his family moved to Sanbornton the year he turned 13. When he and his brother Gardner did not want to be farmers like their father Jesse wished, he built a cabinet shop and hired a professional cabinetmaker to teach them a trade.

Another historical side note is that Jesse Ingalls was one of the founders of the Woodman-Sanbornton Academy, now home to the Sanbornton Public Library.

In the early 1830's the cabinet shop burned down and soon the two brothers moved to Lowell, Mass. to become portrait painters. For a few years, Walter travelled throughout New York and New England painting portraits before returning to Sanbornton in 1835.

From 1840-1849 he became involved in politics, serving as the Sanbornton Town Moderator for seven years then as the town's representative in the New Hampshire State Legislature from 1847-1849.

He eventually began traveling across the country again, painting portraits along the way, where he became heavily influenced by the invention of the camera. In 1858, Ingalls declared he had returned to New Hampshire with newfound skills that had "all the advantage of the camera combined with the skillful blending and softening of the crude outline."

In 1860, he was living back in Sanbornton Square, and his portrait of the Burleigh family was painted two years later.

Among the most notable of his local works were paintings of the Tiltons and other related families, while his portrait of George Washington still hangs in the New Hampshire State Capitol building today.

To restore the 36-by-30-inch Burleigh family portrait to its rightful condition, it will have to have dirt and layers of varnish removed from the surface. The canvas itself will need repairs, as will the frame and stretcher. It will then be retouched where needed, have lost paint filled in, and the faded colors brightened before a layer of isolating varnish will serve to protect it for display in the library once again.

Those who would like more details on the conservator's proposal can obtain a written copy of it at the library and donations toward the project in any amount are gratefully accepted. Checks, made payable to Sanbornton Public Library, can either be dropped off at 27 Meetinghouse Hill Rd. or mailed to P.O. Box 88, Sanbornton, N.H. 03269. For further information on donations or the project itself, please contact the library at 286-8288.

Varney Smith
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