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Famous mural needs work

  • BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS The Franz Kline painting at the Lehighton American Legion is in need of restoration.
    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS The Franz Kline painting at the Lehighton American Legion is in need of restoration.
Published August 19. 2014 04:00PM

The Lehighton American Legion is confronted with a painful decision.

It must decide if it can afford to restore a piece of history, a 14-by-6-foot mural done by world-famous artist Franz Kline, or if it should sell it.

Kline is one of the most successful artists to ever emerge from Carbon County.

He has been featured on a stamp by the U.S. Postal Service; his abstracts are sold by famous auction houses for millions of dollars; his name has been an answer to a "Jeopardy" clue; and articles have been written about him in The Washington Post, The New York Times and the London Times.

One of his most ambitious projects was the mural he did at the Legion Post in 1946.

For almost 70 years, that painting, a gift to the Legion, has been a conversation piece and an attraction. The painting, christened "Lehighton," is a collage of the town's landmarks and locations.

Floyd Brown, president of the Legion's Home Association and past commander, said the organization is having the painting appraised, and then will make a decision about selling or restoring the artwork.

Arrangements are being made with an appraisal firm to come to the Legion.

Brown said age and cigarette smoke have damaged the painting over the years.

The Legion last had the painting cleaned in 1979.

Twenty years ago, the Legion considered restoration, but at that time the cost would have been about $27,000.

"I can't imagine what the cost is today," Brown said.

"We've got to do something with it, but we don't know where we're going," he said.

He admitted that discussion by Legion officials included possibly selling it.

"Possibly if we get a good price, we would sell it," he said. "Maybe with the money we could put a Franz Kline art room in Lehighton High School and create Franz Kline scholarships."

He said one firm indicated that the painting, which is glued to the wall, could be peeled off and another painting could be put in its place.

"It would be a shame to do this, but it is deteriorating," Brown said.

Kline was born in Wilkes-Barre in 1910 and moved to Lehighton as a teenager. He graduated from Lehighton High School in 1931 and went on to study art at Boston University and at the Heatherly Art Conservatory in London.

Just before his death in 1962, he was offered the chairmanship of the art department at Yale University.

Art was always his passion. He drew photos in his high school newspaper and yearbook. He frequently gave drawings as gifts to friends and relatives.

It was in his college days that he evolved to abstract.

In 2012, Christie's auctioned off an untitled painting of Kline for $40.4 million, over $10 million more than had been anticipated.

In 2005, one of his abstracts titled "Crow Dancer" netted a top bid of $6.4 million at Christie's auction house.

Last year, Sotheby's sold an untitled painting by Kline for $2.9 million.

Because of its historical significance, there is speculation this painting is on par in value with his abstracts.

A 1956 black-and-white abstract titled "Mahoning" is on exhibit at the famous Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Kline's 1960 work, "Study for Shenandoah Wall," hangs in the Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Other works inspired by Kline's coal-region roots include "Thorpe" painted in 1954 and "Hazleton" painted in 1957. Both are in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

A painting named "Palmerton," which he created in 1941, hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

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