Weymouth painting in Tufts Library reveals town’s anti-slavery movement
A painting of an anti-slavery picnic held at Weston Park in 1845 is now on display in Tufts Library and provides a window into Weymouth’s abolitionist history.
Weymouth Historical Commission chairman James Clarke said the painting, unveiled on February 2, is a copy of an original by Susan Torrey Merritt, a 19th-century artist who lived on Front Street.
“It hangs on the wall on the second floor of the library which overlooks Weston Park,” he said. “You can look out the window at what the painting represented 170 years ago.”
Clarke said the painting had been identified for many years as a July 4 event.
“But upon further investigation it was later identified as an abolitionist picnic,” he said. “By setting it up, we will get more information.”
Cathy Torrey, a member of the historical commission, said the original painting was on display at the Chicago Art Institute.
“The Chicago Art Institute started to study it more closely and saw that there was an American flag and an abolitionist flag,” she said. “They noticed there were a number of people of color. Since Weymouth was an anti-slavery hotbed, they determined it was an abolitionist picnic.
Torrey said the design reveals “a number of people” were involved in the anti-slavery movement.
“It’s very interesting that this activity took place here at Weymouth Landing,” she said at the ceremony. People raised funds, created leaflets and worked hard to make sure others in the area knew about the movement.
Steven Dooner, a resident of Weymouth, said the painting “is extraordinary”.
“The first thing that grabs me is the abolitionist flag,” Dooner, an English and humanities professor at Quincy College, said after the Feb. 2 dedication ceremony. “The idea was for Weymouth to step into the future and try to see a better America.
Dooner said Weymouth’s commitment to abolishing slavery “makes me very proud” to live in the town.
“There were amazing abolitionists in this state, and they saw a better America, and you can see they were celebrating that idea here,” he said.
He said outstanding abolitionists in the state included Governor John A. Andrew, a Hingham resident elected governor in 1860.
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Anti-slavery painting unveiled during Black History Month
Robert MacLean, director of Weymouth Public Libraries, said the unveiling of the anti-slavery paintwork “is a perfect moment” as it coincides with Weymouth’s 400th anniversary and Black History Month.
“We have a new (library) building and a new playground,” he said.
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MacLean said library visitors who view the painting can “be immersed” in its historical depiction.
“We have these big windows where people have a bird’s eye view of Weston Park where the picnic took place and where Susan Torrey Merritt painted it,” he said. “His (painting) position in the library adds so much context and connection for people. The painting is a masterpiece of American folk art. We are happy to share this with our customers.
MacLean said patrons could learn about the abolitionist movement in Weymouth by reading ‘The Weston Sisters’, a book from the library’s collection which details the involvement of Maria Weston Chapman and her five sisters.
General Councilor Lisa Belmarsh said the painting’s arrival coincided with the construction of the new Maria Weston Chapman School, named for the anti-slavery abolitionist and the opening of a new Tufts Library in October. .
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“It is a very surreal moment knowing that we are celebrating this new beginning for Weymouth,” she said after the ceremony. I’m just glad to be part of it.
Hingham companies help anti-slavery painting
Clarke said Hingham-based Weston Graphics made a copy of the historic painting and a frame for the image was provided by Hingham-based Aisling Gallery & Framing.
The reproduction was funded by a $1,400 grant from the Weymouth Cultural Council.