Two of the figures in the historic mural titled "Larchmont Yacht Club"—on display at the Larchmont Public Library—stare pensively at the waters of the Long Island Sound, both crisply attired in sailing-whites in what could be easily be mistaken for a scene out of the iconic American novel, The Great Gatsby.
The painting—along with a second work titled "Larchmont Manor House" also on display at the Library—were completed in 1939 by Thomas Donnelly, an artist employed during the Franklin D. Roosevelt's national work program called "Works Project Administration" (WPA). The WPA was part of FDR's public economic stimulus program the New Deal; during this time, many artists were hired to complete public murals in places like post offices and other government locales.
But recently, the paintings were entering into their seventh decade on display—and starting to show it.
Luckily, with the help of a $7,500 grant from the Conservation Treatment Grant Program of the Greater Hudson Heritage Network as well as donations from Mr. & Mrs. Carl Olsson, the Larchmont Yacht Club and Friends of the Larchmont Library, the pair were restored to their original glory by Susan Blakney of the West Lake Conservators, Ltd.
On Nov. 29, Jill Sarkozi of the Larchmont Historical Society spoke to the community about the storied history behind both locales depicted in the paintings.
Donnelly's mission—paid for by WPA funds—was to depict Larchmont, both past and present. The oldest home in Larchmont—it was originally built in 1797—the formerly 400-acre property has since been divided up into what is currently known as the "Larchmont Manor" neighborhood.
Although the Larchmont Yacht Club's roots appear to be as deeply rooted as the Manor House's—the Club was founded in 1880—it's old-school, patrician reputation as a stomping ground for the leasurily class was reinvented by Larchmont's evolution from a summer community for the wealthy to its current incarnation, a commuter town for those working in NYC. A 1939 profile in Fortune Magazine noted the change: "The typical member of the Larchmont Yacht Club is much more likely to be a man with a good job and a comfortable income, which he earns. If you really like to sail, you will sail even if you have to build your boat with your own hands – and you can do that for $100.”
Both paintings are now on display at the Library. Sarkozi's full presentation is available on the Library's website.