By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – As the proprietor of the Art and Frame Emporium, Ed Turner naturally has a passion for art. But after a recent project he completed for the town of Westborough, he has found he is also inspired about using art to preserve local history.
Over the course of the last year and a half, Turner and his team refinished 16 antique frames that were found abandoned in the attic of the old Westborough fire station. Those pieces were then used to display priceless documents that had been stored in the town vault. How this project all came to fruition is a happy story of chance, luck and synchronicity, as well as a dedicated group of residents and professionals who knew they had treasures on their hands.
Turner has worked with Westborough Public Library Director Maureen Ambrosino on restoring old frames so that they may be displayed at the library. So two years ago, when the old fire station was being prepared to be torn down to make way for a new one, the town’s Historical Commission asked him to consult on a cache of old frames that had been left in the building’s attic.
“The frames were in horrible, disgusting shape,” he said, “just covered with decades of dust and grime. A lot of the antique bubble glass was also broken.
“They were a mess, but I could see that some, with a lot of work, could be salvaged,” he said.
He agreed to take them back to his shop and store them.
“But I couldn’t really do anything at that point,” he noted. “They were not my property, they belonged to the town.”
At this point, he thought perhaps if he could receive town funding, the frames could be restored and possibly be used at the library or another municipal building. After monies were approved, Turner’s team started the lengthy, intensive project of restoration.
First, the years of grime and the broken glass had to be carefully removed. In many cases, the frames had broken parts so molds were made of the parts that were not damaged. The new pieces were then carefully integrated back into the frames and painted so seamlessly that it’s impossible to see what was replaced. Six of the refinished frames went to the library but the rest were returned to storage.
It was just about this time that the town’s voters also approved a major renovation for Town Hall. As part of preparing that building, everything had to be moved out, including historic documents that were stored in a vault. In charge of that process was Anthony Vaver.
Documents included ones from around the time of the beginning of the American Revolution. All were in pristine condition, thanks to being stored in literal darkness for so long.
“One document has a list of every man who agreed to sign up to fight. Another is the listing of every ‘seventh’ man. That was a list of men who were selected to comprise a unit to help in the war,” Turner said.
“These are incredible pieces of the town’s history,” he said. “We were just thrilled to find these.”
Turner next called Assistant Town Manager Kristi Williams and Town Manager Jim Malloy.
“They were as excited as we were,” he recalled. “They knew that these documents should be shared with the town in the renovated Town Hall.”
Additional monies were then appropriated at a special town meeting to so that the documents could be mounted into the old frames.
Once the documents were fitted with special ultraviolet plexiglass to help protect them, they were installed at Town Hall where they were admired by those who attended the grand re-opening ceremony held there Nov. 10.
Turner noted that many of the town’s local historians have helped him over the years, on the prior library project as well as this most recent one. They included Phil Kittredge and Charlotte Spinney as well as the late Jacqueline Tidman.
He noted that he now has a deepened respect and interest in local history and hopes that the project will help inspire future generations as well.
“My goal is to help educate the youth of Westborough and help get them engaged in the town’s history,” he said. “By seeing these important documents, they can learn more about what it was like back in the town’s early days. It helps to bring the town’s history alive.”
For more information on Art and Frame Emporium, visit www.artandframeemporium.com or call 508-366-5650.