Rufus Porter Murals Documented by Scholars from Porter’s Bridgeton Museum

Visitors from the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgeton, ME (L-R) Julie Lindberg, Julie Carter Lefko and Jane Radcliffe with Lorrie Dunham (in pink)
Julie Lindberg, Linda Carter Lefko and Jane Radcliffe (rear, L-R), visitors from the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgeton, ME, posed with Lorrie Dunham in front of a Rufus Porter mural in the entry of Dunham’s house. Image (c) JMcCT, 2015

By Julie McCay Turner

Scholars Linda Carter Lefko, Julie Lindbergh, and Jane Radcliffe recently visited Bedford on behalf of the Rufus Porter Museum in Bridgeton, ME. They came to document the still-colorful Porter murals in the entry and upstairs hall, as well as those in an upstairs bedroom and its closet at Lorrie Dunham’s house. Their documentation will become part of the  museum’s permanent record about Porter’s work.

The un-restored murals retain much of their original color because for years they were covered by the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that held Carroll Dunham’s extensive library. As the proprietor of a popular used-book store on The Great Road, he acquired the volumes that formed the basis of his collection. After his death in 2013, the collection was disbursed, the shelves were removed, and the murals were revealed.

The School Avenue house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and — including her children and grandson — it has been home to six generations of Dunham’s family. In addition to her position as a Library Trustee, Dunham also serves as chairperson for the Historic Preservation Commission, a board charged with – according to the Town of Bedford’s web site — “the preservation, protection, development, and management of Bedford’s historical, archaeological, and cultural assets.” Bedford’s Porter murals could well be considered to be among those assets.

Click each panel to see a full-sized image in the gallery below:

The square-rigged ship in the bedroom closet
The square-rigged ship in the bedroom closet

“I used to wake up each morning and see this mural,” said Dunham recently, “and I love the tiny sailing ship on the closet wall.” The square-rigger is less than 3 inches high, and notable because of the faint red pennant streaming from its main mast and the American flag flying from a yard on the mizzen-mast.

At some point, a nail was driven into the wall, leaving behind what could be imagined to be a cannon ball shot through the sails.

“If the house is ever sold,” said Dunham, “I hope that the murals will remain, and perhaps even be properly restored.”

Lorrie Dunham with the mural in the second-floor bedroom
Lorrie Dunham with the mural in the second-floor bedroom

About Rufus Porter

Rufus Porter founded the Scientific American magazine and shortly before his death published plans to construct a steam-powered airship offering transcontinental service at $200 per passenger. According to Wikipedia, Porter’s 1884 obituary in Scientific American noted that “Rufus Porter will live as one of the best and brightest examples of the versatility of American invention.” But Porter’s renown in Bedford was earned much earlier in his career: As an itinerant muralist in the second quarter of the 19th century, he traveled throughout New England and Virginia painting portraits and creating murals in more than 150 homes.

Porter’s Bedford visits are evident in the collection of murals he left behind. They can be found in Town Hall’s multipurpose room (a small black and white panel near the elevator, moved from a house that was demolished) and in the parlor at the Job Lane House and Farm Museum on North Road, as well as in several private homes, including this one owned by Lorrie Dunham.


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