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State council on arts awards Hooksett Heritage Commission $6,300 to clean, restore murals

HOOKSETT — Fast-food fans might remember two murals that once covered the walls in dining rooms of McDonald's in the Hooksett during the 1970s.

The images showed a group of Native Americans fishing and seemed to have been inspired by local history and accounts of the Pennacook tribes who fished the Amoskeag Falls.

The paintings, by William Abbott Cheever, are getting some much-needed care thanks to the Hooksett Heritage Commission which was awarded a $6,300 Cultural Conservation Grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

According to Heritage Commission Chairwoman Kathie Northup, the Chicago-based art restoration firm Parma Conservation, which specializes in the conservation of historic murals, will clean and restore the two pieces.

'It's such a great opportunity for Hooksett to preserve these murals,' said Northup.

Northup said VanderWolk Enterprises, the owners of the McDonald's in the 1970s, commissioned Cheever to paint the murals in 1974. They hung in the dining room for 10 years, but in 1984, McDonald's decided to redecorate. The paintings were donated to the town, which placed one at the Underhill School and the other in the library at the Village School.

Northup said that the Underhill mural has been used as a part of the school's curriculum on New Hampshire history.

But the mural at the Village School was placed in storage and nearly forgotten when the school department left the building in 2004.

But last winter it was rescued by Northup, who was determined to see it, and its sister piece, restored.

Northup dug into the history of the two murals and discovered that Cheever, who was born in Andover, Mass., but lived in Amherst for the later part of his life, was an accomplished landscape artist, illustrator and designer.

Cheever also painted three of the many murals that were commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department to liven up the walls of public building, particularly post offices.

Cheever's Post Office murals are in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The post offices in Derry, Milford, Peterborough and Wolfboro had murals painted by other artists working in the late '30s and early '40s.

Northup said the murals, and their subject matter, have caught the attention of the New Hampshire State Archeologist's office and well as the interest of the state Council on the Arts.

'Isn't it great that from humble beginnings as dining room decor at McDonald's, these murals have received this recognition 38 years later,' said Northup. 'I think once people learn about their importance they will get the kind of respect they deserve.'

btaormina@newstote.com