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Richmond Hill historian to discuss local painting

And even fewer people know about the history of the artist, Philip Evergood, who painted the scene as part of the U.S. government's Works Progress Administration that hired the unemployed for federal projects during the Great Depression.

All this will change, however, when Carl Ballenas, an active member in the Richmond Hill Historical Society, hosts a discussion about the mural and its creator Friday night at the Leonard Center, on the corner of 112th Street and 86th Avenue starting at 7:30 p.m.

"There are just so many symbolic elements," Ballenas said. "It is a painting that has been on the wall for more than 60 years and people just brush by it."

Ballenas said he will divide his talk about the mural, called, "The Story of Richmond Hill," into four parts. He said he will first talk about the aesthetics of the painting, then discuss the historical figures portrayed, then cover the controversy surrounding the mural when it was first put on display and end with the depiction's similarities with the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Evergood, who lived from 1901 to 1973, was born in New York City but attended the prestigious Eton College public school and Cambridge University for his education. He studied and worked throughout Europe during the 1920s and settled in New York City in 1931.

The artist, drawing from themes in the Great Depression, integrated what he saw during that era into his paintings, including "The Story of Richmond Hill," Ballenas said.

Ballenas said he will address how the mural depicts a contrast between a utopia in Richmond Hill with open space and green gardens vs. the gray, dirty New York City. In the middle of the depiction, he said, are the founding fathers of Richmond Hill, including Albon Platt Man.

At the time the mural was unveiled in 1936, members of the religious community criticized the artist for including too much cleavage on one of the women in the painting, Ballenas said. There was also an outcry from the Richmond Hill community that protested against the immigrant look of the people in the depiction, Ballenas said.

"There are many levels I want to show," he said.

Ballenas said he will also point out two surprises in the mural that have gone unnoticed for more than 60 years.

For more information on the event or to attend, please call 718-847-6070.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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