Stamford High School welcomes return of art lost in time

Stamford High School welcomes return of art lost in time Restored painting returns to Stamford High School

By Wynne Parry - Stamford Advocate 11/18/2009
STAMFORD -- Thirty-nine years after Depression-era murals were ripped from the walls of Stamford High School's small auditorium, one of the original seven has returned to the school.

"Sports" no longer frames a set of double doors in the auditorium. Instead, it has been placed in a more secure location in the media center.

After sheets of orange and black paper were pulled from the mural during a ceremony Wednesday, Lisa Rich was struck by the muscular depiction of high school athletes.

"It's so much more bold and vibrant compared to the replica. I didn't expect it to be so beautiful," said Rich, who teaches Spanish at the school.

In place of the murals, the small auditorium holds photographs and framed replicas beneath a ceiling lowered from its original height by renovations.

The full mural, "Democracy and Education," was painted in 1934 by James Daugherty under the federally funded Works Progress Administration program in 1934, the U.S. government's first foray as an arts patron, according to speaker Rebecca Lawton, curator of paintings and sculpture at the Amon Carter Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas.

The panels were crowded with figures, motion and color.

"The overall effect we are left with is one of spirited optimism during one of the most horrendous years of the Great Depression," Lawton said.

In 1970, a student recovered six of the seven murals from a trash bin. Two of these have since been sold to private owners.

The history of the recovery of the murals is "long and litigious," said Mayor Dannel Malloy, who recounted how, when he came into office, he reversed the previous administration's policy and entered negotiations with the owner. Conservator Joseph Matteis Jr. has now restored three of the four. The other two are at the Ferguson Library and the University of Connecticut Stamford.

"Sports" cost about $50,000 to restore, according to Diane Sentementes Sierpina, co-chairwoman of the Friends of Stamford High School Alumni Association. Funds were donated by alumni, the city, the state, local businesses and others.

At least one member of the audience recalled seeing the murals painted.

Walter Ericsson, 90, was a junior the year Daugherty painted the murals.

"I know they picked the important people out of class as models," he said, remembering that an all-state football player and the handsomest man in class were among those chosen.

His contact with the process was limited to "peeking in through the doorway, because they try to keep everybody moving from one class to another."

The alumni association was able to identify one of the models for "Sports." The female basketball player dressed in green and holding a ball over her shoulder is based on Alberta Christie, a former student.

While Christie was not present, members of her extended family were in the audience. Peter Samperi, the school's athletic director, married the model's niece.

"She said it took quite a long time and she cramped up often," he said.

The fourth mural, "The World Outside," remains unrestored. At 30 feet wide, it will cost $150,000 to restore, said John Solum, a Westport resident who formed a committee to raise funds to restore and return the murals. Solum turned to Tony Pavia, the former Stamford High principal responsible for the replicas now in the auditorium, with a request for help.

"I am looking forward to meeting your brother and working with him on the fourth mural," he said, referring to Mayor-elect Michael Pavia, Tony's brother.

Staff Writer Wynne Parry can be reached at 203-964-2263 or