January 19, 2010

SCHUMER TO UNVEIL HENRY CLAY PAINTING DONATED BY GENESEE COUNTY'S LEROY HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO U.S. CAPITOL

Painting Will Be Unveiled In Ceremony Tonight In The U.S. Capitol

"The Great Compromiser" Was A Giant of the Senate and Former Speaker of the House of Representatives

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and other Senate leaders will unveil the painting donated by the LeRoy Historical Society of a historic portrait of legendary Senator Henry Clay in the Old Senate Chamber at a special ceremony in the U.S. Capitol, tonight, September 23rd. Schumer will also meet with members of the LeRoy Historical Society today in his Washington D.C. office.

“The LeRoy Historical Society’s generosity has made it possible for visitors from every part of our country to see this priceless portrait of one of the most important senators in our history,” said Schumer. “It now hangs in the heart of the Capitol, where senators pass by every day on their way to the Senate floor to vote.”

The ceremony will mark the official presentation of the 145-year-old painting to the Senate after undergoing months of extensive restoration by a team of curators. Joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer will speak at the event, recognizing the LeRoy Historical Society for its dedication to protecting an important work of art and American history.

The painting is now in the East Brumidi Stairwell of the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol. It is significant not only for its representation of Clay, but because it is one of a very few known paintings that show the Old Senate Chamber as it was before being becoming the Supreme Court chamber in 1859.

A group of nearly 50 LeRoy residents will travel to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. Before the ceremony they will meet with Senator Schumer and then tour the Senate and U.S. Capitol. The group is comprised of LeRoy Historical Society Board of Trustees members, their spouses, family and friends, as well as other local supporters of the arts.

The portrait of Senator Clay was painted by New York artist Phineas Staunton in 1865, for a competition held by Clay’s home state of Kentucky. Staunton’s portrait came in second. Staunton brought the portrait back to his hometown of LeRoy, where it was largely forgotten for decades.

Until the turn of the 20th century, Staunton’s painting was displayed in an art conservatory in LeRoy. It then hung for many years in a public school, and in the 1950’s, the painting was transferred to the LeRoy Historical Society, where it was kept for over 50 years.

Three years ago, Lynne Belluscio, who has been the Executive Director of the historical society for over 20 years, was approached by a descendent of the artist inquiring about who the other Senators were in the painting. Belluscio contacted Amy Burton from the U.S. Senate Curator’s office, which brought the painting to the attention of the Senate Commission on Art and sparked interest in donating it to the Senate. Belluscio, along with LeRoy Mayor G.E.D. Brady and Historical Society Board of Trustees members Barbara Elliot, Joanne Graham and Shelly Stein, approved the donation and the painting was transferred to the Senate in 2006.

Upon arriving in the Capitol, the painting was evaluated by a team of curators and restoration experts. They developed a detailed, customized plan for the extensive conservation it would have to undergo. The entire surface of the 7 by 11 foot painting was cracked and flaking. It had suffered multiple tears and sustained significant damage at the places where basketballs had been thrown at it during the years it hung in the school gymnasium. For nearly a year and a half, the conservators consolidated the flaking paint using adhesive and a hot air gun, repaired the tears, reinforced weak portions of the canvas, and filled in patches where paint has been lost. A separate set of experts worked on restoring the enormous wood frame, which is an extremely high quality, custom made frame from the mid-nineteenth century, a work of art in its own right.

Henry Clay, known as the “Great Compromiser” spent nearly 50 years in Congress, serving as Speaker of the House, and as a highly effective senator, perhaps the leading statesman of his time. He was his party’s nominee for president three times. He was known as an orator, statesman and one of the Senators who crafted a series of highly regarded compromises from the 1820s through 1850 to help keep the union together despite threats of secession over the issue of slavery.

Belluscio, Mayor Brady and Trustees Elliot, Graham and Stein will attend a private dinner with Senators and senior staff members hosted by the Secretary of the Senate in the U.S. Capitol following the ceremony tonight.

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