Mystery mural: Origin of Town Hall painting piques Falmouth official's curiosity

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FALMOUTH — For the past year, one question has plagued a town official whenever he walks through Town Hall: who painted the large mural in the first-floor hallway?

Theo Holtwijk, director of long range planning, has been hunting for an answer to this mystery since last December. He said based on the style of painting and some of the buildings depicted, he believes it was created in the 1930s.

The mural, which is nearly 9 feet long and 4 feet tall, has been hanging in Town Hall since it was brought over from the Falmouth Memorial Library basement in the late 1990s. Holtwijk said the mural depicts the history of Falmouth in 30 different vignettes that show buildings and locations all across town. The mural is not signed, so the artist’s identity is a mystery.

“People just don’t know, and I’m flabbergasted because this is such a big thing, this has been around for a while,” Holtwijk said.

Several factors led Holtwijk to his suspicion that the mural is from the 1930s.

First, he said, the newest building depicted in the mural is the old Plummer School, which was built in 1931. He thinks the mural may have come from that school, and it may have been taken down during renovations. Because of its size, he thinks no one was sure what to do with it, so it was put in the library basement.

Second, he said the mural looks like others from the time, especially those commissioned under the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s. He said this is just a hunch, but that the mural certainly seems to fit that time frame.

“But I would just love to know and would love to give recognition to the artist or artists. For all I know there may be multiple people who worked on this,” he said.

He said the fact that no one knows anything about the mural is evidence that it could be from the 1930s. If it were more recent, from the 1970s, for example, he said there would be more people still alive to affirm the mural’s origin.

He has a list of 24 names of people who may be able to place the mural. The list includes people associated with the library, Falmouth Historical Society, people who graduated from the high school at the time Holtwijk thinks the mural was there, former town employees, and people who have lived in the town for a long time.

So far, he hasn’t had any luck. But he said he hopes the person who can is out there.

“It’s an ever-growing list of names,” he said. “But we’ll get there. I’m hopeful.”

Holtwijk said his professional training and interest have helped motivate him to solve the mystery of the mural.

“I’m just a guy who works at Town Hall, and because I’m interested in the future and I’m interested in the past, I’ve taken an interest in it,” he said. “But I felt a connection with people who are equally amazed that we collectively don’t really know the answers.

“Now I can only share with you the mystery,” Holtwijk said. “And some people might say that’s enough, let’s leave it a mystery. And maybe that’s fine too.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth director of long range planning, has been trying for almost a year to find out who painted a large Town Hall mural depicting the town’s history. The mural is nearly 9 feet long and 4 feet tall.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.