Thursday, September 4, 2008

The South Solon Frescoes

For almost half a century a certain faded green book, published by the South Solon Historical Society in 1959, has rested on the bedside table of the back bedroom at camp. Actually, I can’t vouch for the half century. I only know that for the past five years it has been there and I see no reason to imagine it has ever been anywhere else. The book is South Solon - The Story of a Meeting House, and inside is a postcard addressed to CSB’s late mother, that reads: “Thank you, J--, for your nice card. I am recovering. Still look awful but Dr. says I’ll be cured in a couple of days. Seems I have had Herpes. Please excuse card but I’m not up to much writing. With best wishes, S--”.
The first six chapters trace the history of the stark meeting house, from its construction in 1841 by a group of hardy New Englanders, though its heyday as home to assorted denominations (all Protestant, of course), its Antiquarian Suppers and Harvest Festivals, through its decline at the end of the 19th century, and its resurgence in the 1930’s. Then comes the intriguing part. Back in the 1950’s a certain Mrs. Tiffany Blake who was studying at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (a completely hidden away jewel in the otherwise down-and-out Skowhegan) fell in love with the beautiful, simple Greek Revival Meeting House and conceived the idea of having young artists execute frescoes on the meeting house walls. And most remarkably of all, the idea came to fruition.
We decided we wanted to see these frescoes, if in fact they still existed.
Every time we drive up to Caratunk on Route 201 (the Old Canada Highway), we pass through Solon. This takes about a minute if we slow down, which we do. We pass the Coolidge Library (hosting knitters and crocheters) and The Solon Hotel ( looks like the stage set for a western) and the Stained Glass Wizard and the Drive-Thru Skowhegan Savings Bank and the general store. On three separate occasions we have driven down unpromising side streets looking for the meeting house, with no success. Then this past week we stopped at OLD ANTIQUES BOUGHT & SOLD (where CSB found a beautiful French lock – he likes hardware - and I found a tiny book of birds) and asked the proprietor about the meeting house. After telling us first of his early career as a bellhop in a Miami hotel running numbers for the local Cuban bookie, he directed us: down the road a ways, turn left before you pass the Quonset hut, then down that road for a few miles past the ruins of a dairy farm until you get to Solon Road unless they’ve changed the name to East Madison Road, and turn right there because the Meeting House is on the corner but the front is totally obscured with scaffolding and canvas. It's no problem to go inside because it's always open and the lady from the Historical Society lives across the street and she’ll answer any questions.
We followed his perfect directions to the Christo-wrapped Meeting House. We unlatched the construction door, stepped over the sill, mounted the enormous boulder that was the meeting house’s entry-step, read the ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK sign, unlatched the actual meeting house door and entered the dim, but hardly solemn, interior, striped with patches of sunlight streaming through the forty-paned windows. And yes, the frescoes are still there and they are amazing.
Here is Jacob Wrestling with an Angel, painted by Sigmund Abeles, on the gallery’s south wall.
Here is the Gallery, facing west.
You can also find the Last Supper, all the key elements in Moses’ life, and naturalistic references to Psalms. (Below, 104, Verses 10-27)

All this on a country crossroads a few miles in from the Kennebec River in north central Maine.

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