ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A noon opening line is not a typical Sunday scene at the Allentown Art Museum. The draw? The public's first look of a restored mural painted by Lehighton Artist Franz Kline.
"It's absolutely beautiful," said Janny Grave Snyder who came down from Lehighton.
"Light in the shadow, something brought out by the color while others recede into the background," added Ron Mordosky of Bethlehem.
Lehighton historian Ron Rabenold says Kline painted the panoramic composite nearly 70 years ago.
"This has all the major landmarks of Lehighton. Have the rail road, which was very important to our town," Rabenold explained.
Lafayette College Art Professor and Kline historian Robert Mattison says it highlights the relationship between nature and industry.
"Which is so keyed to American heart and American culture," he said.
Kline, who died in 1962 gained fame for his abstract work. Mattison said Kline ranks with Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko
Last fall the museum bought the mural from the Leighton American Legion. Museum CEO David Mickenberg says the purchase was an act of preservation and remembrance.
"Museum I think is preserving the work for all history of art, for every museum, for every art historian and student in the Lehigh Valley," he explained.
Acquiring the mural was a work in art itself. For seven decades it hung above the legion bar. The hands of time took their toll. But the hands of New York City based art conservationist Luca Bonetti Corp saved its future.
First the painting was rolled off the bar wall. It was then brought to the museum where those like Elizabeth Nunan spent more than three weeks working eight hours a day to restore it.
Tissue to protect the oil based paint from being damaged. A special PH water solution was then used to clean the surface.
The painting is personal for many in the Sunday crowd. Snyder found the house where she grew up.
"I'm happy the mural has a safe place to be," she said.
Even though this isn't a true picture. Rabenold says it highlights the pride of a region.
"So many of the iconic things that meant so much to us meant so much to Kline," the Historian explained.
A picture of the past now preserved for the future.
The museum is planning a full curriculum on the life and works of Franz Kline. This includes programs with the Lehighton School District.
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