Wellington’s Spirit of ’76 Museum has acquired 22 Archibald Willard paintings — including two of its namesakes — that are on loan through October.
The exhibit is just in time for the village’s bicentennial, the museum’s 50th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of Willard’s death. Willard, the creator of the celebrated “The Spirit of ’76” painting, lived in Wellington for a time and the painting is based on a scene he saw in the town square one Fourth of July.
While the museum has a number of Willard’s paintings in its collection, the 22 additional works are on loan from collector Dan Zivko. Included in those paintings are two versions of “The Spirit of ’76,” and are out of about 20 copies Willard made of the famous work.
According to Cindy Norton, Museum Board of Trustees Vice President, the painting started out as a humorous one, showing a group goofing off on the holiday, but viewers took it more seriously.
“It’s the most well-known painting with the least-known artist,” Norton said.
The museum held an opening Thursday for the trustees, volunteers and community members who made the exhibit possible. Even members of the staff who helped hang the exhibit, like volunteer Al Leiby, were in awe whenever they walked through the building’s first-floor gallery.
“It’s outstanding, it’s more than we could hope for,” Leiby said. “I’m at a loss for words and that’s unusual for me. It really is very impressive.”
Leiby is a local collector and historian, but he’s not the only one captivated by Willard’s work. Scott Markel, one of the museum’s trustees, is a local expert on Archibald Willard and will dress up as the artist for a speech during the village’s bicentennial celebrations.
“The very first thing that happened once (the paintings) hit the ground, I asked someone to take my picture with ‘The Spirit of ’76’ just in case something happened and I died in the next five minutes,” he said.
Besides the “Spirit of ’76” work, the exhibit includes paintings of Willard’s parents, several “Pluck” series works — showing the misadventures of a couple of children and their dog — and some Civil War work. These pictures may tell stories; the one of “The Spirit of ’76” is what continues to captivate its viewers.
“We were literally blown away,” Markel said. “As the story goes, when people saw the original ‘Spirit of ’76,’ they would just stand in awe and just look and look and look. And here we are just a bunch of regular people down here in Wellington, Ohio and these came in and we’re looking and just automatically we’re art lovers, we became mesmerized with it.”
The paintings are on loan through the museum’s regular season. It is open 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday or by appointment; its other exhibits include military artifacts and clothing and items from the old Wellington High School. The three-floor museum at 201 N. Main St. (state Route 58) in Wellington is handicapped accessible..
For more information or to book a tour, call (440) 647-4367 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: This year is the centennial of Willard’s death.
Contact Carissa Woytach at 440-329-7245 or email@example.com.