Warner House Murals

When 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 British-American wall paintings in America, making the Warner House a truly one-of-a-kind visit.

Staircase Mural

The first owner Archibald Macpheadris had the murals painted shortly after the house's construction. Similar to the nuances of modern social media, an early-18th-century visitor might have understood the subject material and significance of the murals. The modern visitor is left with a more mysterious and open-ended interpretation. The scenes portrayed in the murals likely referred to Macpheadris' years in Britain and his new adult life as an international merchant and his home in the New Hampshire.

The staircase mural scenes begin on the first floor with the woman spinning, the dog barking and the eagle hunting. Photograph by Sandy Agrafiotis.

Abraham and Isaac Mural

Sometime after Macpheadris' death in 1729, the side murals were covered with wallpaper. Why they were covered is unclear. Possibly the murals significances no longer reflected the views or the decorative taste of the new occupants of the Warner House. Interestingly, the two Mohawk sachems on the landing were never covered with wallpaper and have always been on view. 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! Of note, flying through most of the murals are several different birds, a welcoming sign for a sea captain like Macpheadris.

The next scene is the biblical story of the sacrifice of Abraham and his son Isaac. Photograph by Sandy Agrafiotis.

Mohawk Mural

Both scholars and daily visitors have theorized on the significance, placement and the subject material of the murals. 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, other scenes are more puzzling such as the woman and the spinning wheel. Could this be a nod to Penelope and Ulysses? See the article in the Spring 2014 newsletter. Seen spinning outdoors, the woman has been interrupted by an eagle swooping in and snatching a chicken while a dog barks. An article in the Spring 2015 Newsletter speculates that the hunting eagle and might be an allusion to an Aesop’s Fable. Another mystery is the male figure on horseback who has both a gold crown and "P" emblazoned on his document bag. 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.

The next scene portrays two of the four Mohawk leaders who journeyed to London in 1710 to meet Queen Anne and obtain more arms and men for the war against the French and their native allies in America. Etow Oh Koam is on the left and Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row is on the right. Photograph by Richard Haynes.

Horseback Mural

The identity of the muralist is uncertain. Art historian Mary Black and former Warner House Curator Joyce Volk suspected the painter was Nehemiah Partridge (1683-c.1737), a New York artist who was born in Portsmouth and whose father was the Lieutenant Governor of New Hampshire.

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? Share it with the Warner House.

The last scene ascending the staircase is that of the man on horseback. Photograph by Douglas Armsden.