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Library staff unveil restored Burleigh family portrait

Historians David Witham, Barbara Wright, Library Director Marcia Haigh, Jackie Brouillard and Library Trustee David Adams were pleased to present the restored Burleigh Family Portrait by renowned artist Walter Ingalls as a permanent fixture of the Sanbornton Public Library. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
May 22, 2019
SANBORNTON – Residents, local historians and library trustees gathered in the Adult Library, a.k.a. the "Big Room," at the Sanbornton Public library on Saturday morning for the unveiling of a restored portrait done by renowned artist Walter Ingalls, a former resident and community leader.

Ingalls (1805-1878) was a portrait painter who not only travelled the world in search of subjects to paint, but called Sanbornton home for much of his life. Besides creating portraits that still hang to this day in museums, as well as the New Hampshire state Capitol building, Ingalls also took time to serve his community and state. From 1840 until 1847 was Sanbornton's Town Moderator, and was then elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives where he served from 1847-1849. His father, research shows, was also the founder of Woodman-Sanbornton Academy, better known now as the Sanbornton Public Library.

After his term in Concord, Ingalls turned his attention back to his love of art and was commissioned to paint at least one known local portrait after that time for the Burleigh family.

As a member of one of Sanbornton's earliest families, Alfred Burleigh was a local farmer and stonecutter who lived from 1816-1878. He married Emeline Sanborn, the daughter of Col. Dan Sanborn and Harriet Ladd Sanborn, founding members of the town. The couple had three children, Addie and Walter, who each died at a young age, then George, who survived his infancy. Alfred, Emeline and baby George are the figures depicted in Ingalls' 1862 portrait of the family.

Sanbornton Library Director Marcia Haigh said the portrait was discovered in storage in the 1980's then brought back out as part of last year's Attic Treasure's program by the Sanbornton Historical Society. Realizing then what a timeless treasure the piece was, as well as the significance of Ingalls, Haigh contacted the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. From there, she was directed to Martha Cox of Great Works Restoration in Shapleigh, Maine who they advised could bring the art back to its original condition.

Haigh said Cox traveled to Sanbornton to examine the portrait. She gave the library an estimate and time frame for the restoration process and Sanbornton residents then rallied to raise those funds.

"She said it would be $2,700 to restore the portrait and in less than two months we had already raised the money," said Haigh.

Bake sales and a "Baubles for Burleighs" jewelry booth during the March Town Meeting, along with numerous private donations, swiftly gathered the funding needed and sent the portrait off to Cox's skilled hand in Maine.

Last Saturday Haigh and trustee David Adams said they were pleased to know that Cox took extra measures in maintaining the integrity of Ingalls' artwork.

They explained that she first wiped away the dirt and grim that accumulated while in storage, then carefully removed not one but two old layers of varnish. Applying a fresh layer of varnish, only then did Cox begin touching up faded paint, blotches and holes on the canvas. Beneath that new varnish though, everything is just as Ingalls painted it 157 years ago.

"It's amazing she not only did all of that but even finished it ahead of schedule. We're just so happy to have the Burleigh's back," said Haigh on Saturday.

Adams had the honor of unveiling the portrait while Jackie Brouillard and Barbara Wright, who did research on the painting, the artist and the Burleigh family, explained more about the background of the portrait. For her part, Wright said it was interesting to discover how many connections there were between Ingalls, the Burleighs and residents still living in Sanbornton today.

"So many older families are connected to this portrait in some way," she said.

Brouillard also expressed delight in all she discovered about the artist himself.

"It was amazing to learn what sort of Renaissance guy Ingalls was, and how he traveled the world but was still loyal to the people of Sanbornton," Brouillard said. "I'm just so happy this portrait has been restored. It's a real treasure!"

AJ Coleman
Varney Smith
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