Old Italy reborn at Warren Armory



A classic scene from old Italy is playing out at, of all places, the historic Warren Armory on Jefferson Street.

For the past few weeks, Warren artist Richard Kaiser has been painting an enormous canvas depicting a waterfront scene from Venice. The large mural — about 10 by 20 feet — hangs behind the old stage and is a recreation of an old mural that once hung in the same spot, some 100-plus years ago. The only evidence it was ever there is a single photograph, taken prior to 1895, showing the mural, a water scene complete with boats, buildings and a shimmering sky.

Members of Historic Warren Armory, which are renovating the 1842 building, found the old photograph while researching the building's history, said the group's Ed Theberge. The photograph itself came from the collection of the George Hail Library, and was originally taken by photographer G. Eldridge.

"We saw it and said, 'Wouldn't it be something to recreate that?'"

In stepped Mr. Kaiser. A retired art teacher who taught in Rehoboth for 35 years, Mr. Kaiser volunteered a while back to help do restoration work at the old Armory, and got the call from Mr. Theberge a few months ago. Though the mural is big, he said, it's not as large as some he has done. Some are so big, in fact, that he has had to attach brushes to fishing poles to allow him to step back far enough to see what he's doing. Not so with this one. His main tools, apart from brushes and plenty of burnt sienna paint, are a few step ladders.

"My knees feel it," he joked while painting a happy little tree Monday morning.

So far, burnt sienna is the only color he's used, but once the main visual points in the painting are laid out, he'll fill in the blanks with color. He'll use it judiciously, though, so the mural won't be ostentatious.

"I want it to blend in" with the building, he explained.

Standing back and watching his friend paint Monday morning, Mr. Theberge said he is thrilled to have Mr. Kaiser on the job.

"This is going to be the centerpiece," he said. "For people who might not recognize the architecture when they walk in the door, this is going to attract their attention. It's such a great thing."

There are still questions about the original mural's use. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the old Warren Armory was not just the home of the Warren Artillery Company, but also served as a community center where Financial Town Meetings, election of state and local officers, and many parties and balls, were held. There are records of traveling musicians performing there, visits by other entertainers including Tom Thumb, and many stage productions. The old Venetian scene could have been a backdrop from one of those plays, or it could have hung longer term.

"We don't know," Mr. Theberge said. "But the Armory was the cultural center of Warren" at the time.

Historic Warren Armory members hope it will be again. They've been working for several years to rehabilitate the landmark building, though they have a few years to go. As for the canvas? Mr. Kaiser said he'll be finished by August. From that point, workers will probably install grommets along the top edge so the mural can be moved about as needed.

Though the name of the original artist's name is lost to history, that won't be the case when Mr. Kaiser finishes his work.

"This one's definitely going to be signed," he said. "Two hundred years from now they'll look back and say, who was this Kaiser?'"


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