Friday, June 13, 2014

Want to Buy a Piece of Spokane History?

Last week the Spokesman-Review ran an interesting piece about a historical mural that is for sale. The giant painting (149 inches wide by 89 inches tall) is an artistic rendition of a well-known 1884 birds-eye view map of Spokane. Apparently it was created for an unknown Spokane Bank in the 1930s and hung there until the 1950s. A neighbor of Dina Carlson found the mural in her garage and brought to Carlson, who owns Lillian Conn Antiques & Gallery.

Here for comparison is the 1884 map:

According to the Spokesman, "An inscription on the back indicates it was completed in 1938 and signed by an artist with the last name of Hart."

This week I had the opportunity to view the mural myself. It was on display at the quarterly meeting of Spokane Preservation Advocates (join now!). I did not think much of the mural when I read the newspaper article, but in person it is really quite charming. It has been rolled up for fifty years and is in excellent condition. The colors are bright, the paint is not flaking or damaged at all. Hart the painter was no Michelangelo, to be sure, but it does not feel amateurish either--it is really a wonderful portrayal of Spokane in its first decade: I took quite a few pictures:

The full mural. It is a tiny bit ragged on some of the edges where it was cut down.

Some of Spokane's first businesses harnessed the power of the river.

Original Post Street Bridge?

Havermale Island.

Street Scene.

Northern Pacific train coming into town.

Spokane College.

First Northern Pacific Depot.

The artist added several groups of Indians not present in the original map.

Another street scene.

I love the simplicity of this detail.

Indians fishing at the falls.
I have no idea how much money they are asking for this mural. I don't think it is worth tens of thousands--it is not after all, from 1884, or from a famous artist, and the potential customer base for this item is very limited. The Spokesman article mentions that the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture declined an opportunity to buy the piece.

It should always be remembered when dealing with those very popular birds-eye maps of the 19th century that most were produced by real estate speculators and town boosters. They very often depict towns not as they were but as they wished to be seen, in an effort to stimulate investments from back east. The 1891 birds eye of Spokane, for example, shows neighborhoods platted out half way to Canada! As seductive as these old maps are, we should analyze them as we do period advertising, with a shaker of salt at hand.

The most striking thing about the map, however, was how much people loved it. All evening there were different groups of people gathered around, pointing out different features to one another and exchanging conversation. The rich details of the map draw in any Spokane history buff to stop and look for a long while. I hope it finds a public home.


lsipos said...

This is really cool, wish I could have seen it in person.

Bill Youngs said...

Great presentation -- I like your picture of map details. I wonder if I could find a place to hang it. Hmmmmmm....