W

hen entering the main hall, the murals are one of the most uniquely impressive and dramatic features of the Warner House.  Painted c.1718, the four murals are considered the earliest extant Anglo-American wall paintings in America, making the Warner House a truly one-of-a-kind visit. 

First owner Archibald Macpheadris had the murals painted shortly after the house's construction.  Comparatively the murals were the Facebook of its time as the scenes likely made a statement both of Macpheadris's earlier life in the British Isles and his modern life in the colony.  An early-18th-century visitor may have understand the subject material and significance of the murals; however, today's visitor is left with a more mysterious and open-ended interpretation. 

While some of the scenes have been identified like the sacrifice of Abraham and two of four Mohawk sachems that visited Queen Anne's court in 1710, o ther scenes are more puzzling such as the woman and the spinning wheel.  Seen spinning outdoors, the woman has been interrupted by an eagle swooping in and snatching a chicken while a dog barks.  Another mystery is the male figure on horseback who has both a gold crown and "P" emblazoned on his pistol holster. 

Of note, flying through most of the murals are several different birds, a welcoming sign for a sea captain like Macpheadris.  

Both scholars and daily visitors have theorized on the significance, placement and the subject material of the murals.  One of the most recent theories is the identity of the male figure on horseback.  Could it be Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, second in line to the British monarchy? Read more about this theory in the Late Fall 2013 newsletter.

Equally uncertain is the confirmed identity of the muralist.  Art historian Mary Black suspected the painter was Nehemiah Partridge (1683-c.1737), a New York artist who was born in Portsmouth and whose father was an associate of Macpheadris.

Some time after Macpheadris's 1729-death, the side murals were covered with wallpaper as the murals significance no longer reflected the views of the new occupants of the Warner House.  By the 19th century, the very existence of the side murals was unknown by descendants who had lived their entire life in the Warner House.  In 1853, Sherburne grandchildren were playing on the stairs, and a child pulled at the peeling wallpaper, making a remarkable discovery.  Under several layers of wallpaper, the child uncovered a horse's hoof! 

Interestingly enough, the two Mohawk sachems on the landing were never covered.

In 1988, Christy Cunningham Adams and a team of experts led the conservation efforts of the murals, and over the years, the murals have been maintained.  A recent theory was a fresco might have existed on the ceiling above the murals; however, paint analysis tests only concluded the original gold paint. the color of which the ceiling has since been painted. 

Dramatic, grand, impressive, colorful, mysterious—the murals are an excellent example of colonial folk art, and many consider them the most outstanding feature of the Warner House. 

Have a theory on the murals?  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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