Rufus Porter Museum has ‘extraordinary’ year

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BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE — Standing in front of a Rufus Porter mural are Bruce Chalmers of the Ham Foundation, Rufus Porter Museum Executive Director Andrea Hawles and Board President Judy Graham. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A recent Kendal C. and Anna Ham Foundation grant for $75,000 is the latest in over $170,000 given this year to the Rufus Porter Museum to fund renovations to their new home in downtown Bridgton.

“2013 has been a remarkable year,” wrote Museum Executive Director Andrea Hawkes, in the nonprofit organization’s annual appeal letter. “Because our community and state have faith that we make life better in western Maine, and because friends like you support us, we will be moving into our new downtown home in the John and Maria Webb House next summer.”

Along with the Ham grant, the $170,000 has come from the town of Bridgton, in the form of a Community Development Block Grant that paid for exterior façade restoration; along with funding from the Maine Arts Commission, The Margaret Burnham Charitable Trust and the Clarence E. Mulford Trust.

This fall, the museum got another boost. They received official word that the circa 1830 house they purchased in 2011 at the corner of Main and Church Street, known as the John and Maria Webb House, had been placed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places.

On Monday, Hawkes and Rufus Porter Museum board members and volunteers were busy stuffing appeal letters into envelopes at their winter offices in the Wales & Hamblen building, where Porter’s mural panels are kept. Ham Foundation President Bruce Chalmers posed for a picture with Hawkes and Board President Judy Graham, holding a sketch envisioning the Main Street property once all phases of the project are complete.

Phase One calls for renovations to the existing house, inside and out, that next summer will enable the museum to hold most of their activities in three exhibit spaces on the first floor. Offices and a research center will be located upstairs. The museum is now known nationally as an important resource for homeowners and museums interested in preserving New England painted wall murals.

By the fall of 2014, the organization plans to move the current museum on North High Street, known as the Church House, to the Main Street property. The Church House will be placed to the left of the Webb House, and the existing garage and ell will be torn down.

After the Church House is moved, museum members want to build a barn behind both houses to house the murals. The collection continues to grow, with acquisition this year of several miniature portraits by Porter and a donation of a wall painted by muralist John Avery. The museum’s collection of Porter’s work is the most extensive of its kind, with most of the work coming from the Dr. Francis Howe House in Westwood, Mass.

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