By Ted Hayes

Amazing discovery at Warren armory

Long-forgotten painting of Native American hidden behind tin wall

EastBayRI.com ·

Workers peeling away an old section of tin wall uncovered a long-forgotten secret at the Historic Warren Armory Thursday — a large ornamental painting of a Native American chief that hadn’t seen the light of day in untold years.

The armory’s Ed Theberge and others have long known that the old building’s walls, floors and rafters hold secrets, and workers are instructed to let them know if they ever find anything out of the ordinary. But even Mr. Theberge said he was surprised when the ornate painting, which sits above a door at stage left, was uncovered.

“Just amazing,” he said. “To think it was right there …”

The painting is about three foot square, and it is obvious from looking at it that workers sought to protect it when they installed tin sheeting over it at some point in the past. While thin wood strapping is nailed in all around it, there is none on the face.

“They were very careful,” Mr. Theberge said.

There is little to indicate when the painting was created, or by whom. It sits above a doorway at stage left which was installed in 1874, so he said it is no older than that. But it could have been painted into the early years of the 20th century.

One clue that could help narrow when it was installed is evidence of a fire at stage right, above that side of the stage’s corresponding doorway. There would likely have been a similar painting above that door, but a fire damaged that side of the building at some point. Mr. Theberge said library officials are researching fires in Warren, trying to pinpoint a date. If they find it, it would likely mean the painting was created no more recently than that.

One other big question remains: Who is portrayed in the painting? Library workers are also looking for historical paintings of local Native Americans including King Philip and Massasoit, thinking that one might have been used as a guide.

“Or it was just done” without one, he said. “We really don’t know. You think it would have to be someone important.”

Once the research is done, the question will turn to preserving the painting. Removing a large section of wall would probably destroy the painting, Mr. Thebere said, so it will likely be preserved in place. Mr. Theberge said the armory will seek grants and donations to help with the needed work.

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