CONCORD, N.H. – For over 40 years, the ragged, torn portrait of John Parker Hale was stored in the New Hampshire Historical Society’s archives.
Now, the rare portrait of the former U.S. senator, best known as an outspoken critic of slavery, has been restored and put on display at the Museum of New Hampshire History lobby in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. It will be on view through March 18.
“We don’t know who painted it, but it appears to be a portrait that was done in the 1850s. He’s starting to gray,” said Wesley Balla, the society’s director of collections and exhibitions.
Hale, of Dover, achieved national recognition during the 1840s for his opposition to slavery. Elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1842, he went against the state Legislature’s wishes by refusing to vote for the annexation of Texas, which, he argued, would extend slavery.
He clashed in a debate in Concord with his good friend, Franklin Pierce, in 1845.
Pierce, as well as other Democrats, felt the annexation would strengthen the U.S. border against Mexico and threats from the British. The divide between the men ultimately ended their friendship and resulted in Hale’s ouster from the party.
Elected to the Senate as a Free Soil candidate in 1846, Hale became the party’s presidential candidate in 1852, the year Pierce was elected president. Hale was elected to the Senate as a Republican three years later and served 10 years. He died in 1873 at age 67; a statue of him was erected in front of the Statehouse in 1892.
“He would accept no direction from any party, but would act independently whenever his conscience was aroused,” New Hampshire author Peter Wallner wrote in his book, “Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son,” published in 2004. “To Hale, there was a higher law than party, and damn the consequences for speaking out on what was right.”
Former U.S. Sen. Robert W. Upton donated the painting to the society in 1963, but it wasn’t in good enough condition to exhibit even then.
The restoration process revealed that the portrait had been cut down and restretched on a smaller frame. The paint was lifting and there were numerous tears.
Many hours of work
Restorer Cynthia Luk at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts spent well over 80 hours bringing the portrait back to life, Balla said.
Holes and tears were fixed, the canvas was placed on a new lining and restretched.
Rose Daniels of Concord, Hale’s great-great-granddaughter, said the portrait surprised her.
“I’ve seen several different portraits, but not that one,” said Daniels, a retired teacher of developmentally disabled children. “In fact, it kind of took me back because it really didn’t quite resemble a lot of the others. I studied it, and the more I looked at it, then I could kind of relate to some of the features.”
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