Portrait of patriot Francis Vigo rescued from behind refrigerator

Francis Vigo

Francis Vigo statue at the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana. Photo by Jud McCranie, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) – A portrait of Francis Vigo (circa 1740-1836), the man for whom the Indiana county is named, sits in the county prosecutor’s office awaiting restoration.

And that’s not a bad spot, especially considering where it had been stored.

Rescued a couple of years ago from a maintenance room in the Vigo County Courthouse where it had been tucked behind a refrigerator, the Vigo portrait was examined Jan. 11 by local artist Bill Wolfe, who has experience in art restoration projects.

The portrait’s ornate frame is falling apart. The oil painting itself is dirty. And from creases on the portrait it appears to have been displayed in a smaller frame long ago.

“It could cost thousands to restore this,” Wolfe said as he carefully looked over the artwork, which had no artist’s signature. “But it’s worth it.”

Vigo County Commissioners Judy Anderson, Jon Marvel and Brad Anderson have been hoping to have the portrait cleaned up and restored in time for the Vigo County Bicentennial this year. They asked Wolfe to take a look at it.

The painting is believed to have been copied from an original in the possession of the Vincennes Historical Society. It thought to be one of three copies existing in Vigo County.

One hangs in the jury room of Vigo Superior Court 1, and the other is thought to be at the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute.

Wolfe also took a look at the jury room copy. He commented on small differences between the paintings. The face looks well-painted on the damaged painting, he said, but the hands don’t have as much detail as they should.

“They are really valuable, if for nothing but sentimental value, for the county,” Wolfe said.

The damaged portrait has been sitting in a corner of Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt’s office for at least a couple of years since it was found during a four-year restoration of the courthouse from 2004 to 2008.

Prosecutor’s secretary Linda Tichenor-Jeffries has been designated courthouse historian by the Vigo County Bicentennial Committee. She and Wolfe discussed the possibility of placing the portraits in the courthouse rotunda for a bicentennial proclamation set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21 in the first-floor rotunda.

The damaged portrait is likely too fragile and cannot be finished before that date, Wolfe said, but the copy in the jury room might be displayed.

The copy has a plaque identifying Vigo as a “Spanish Merchant” born in Sardinia, Italy about 1740. Vigo died March 22, 1836 in Vincennes.

Wolfe said he would like to find out who painted the trio of Vigo portraits.

“I would like to put them next to each other with the original at Vincennes and see if they are painted by the same person,” he said as he looked over the damaged portrait and its battered frame in Modesitt’s office.

During a previous project to paint a mural of historic county leaders, Wolfe used the jury room portrait as his model for Vigo’s likeness

Retired Judge Michael Eldred was contacted Jan. 11 by the Tribune-Star, and he said the jury room portrait was placed there for safe-keeping following the courthouse renovation that ended in 2008.

“That portrait was already in the Division 1 courtroom before the renovation,” Eldred said. “After we were removed from the courthouse, and then my courtroom was moved from the third floor to the fourth floor, we still had the painting. We also took down all the old photos of past judges and haven’t hung them back up yet. Many of them needed the frames repaired.”

Eldred said he decided the jury room was a safe place for the portrait, but he would prefer it to have a more visible space in the courthouse.

“That painting has no business in a jury room, but no one ever asked me for it,” he said.

Now, as county leaders prepare to celebrate the 2018 bicentennial of Vigo County, the Vigo portraits are getting some well-deserved attention.

It is an appropriate time to take action on restoring the painting, Jeffries said.

The bicentennial proclamation event celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Indiana General Assembly’s formation of a new county to be split from the county of Sullivan.

That occurred Jan. 21, 1818, with the new county named after Col. Francis Vigo, who was instrumental in helping the colonies and territories win independence from the British during the American Revolutionary War.

Vigo would have never visited the current courthouse. It was completed and dedicated June 7, 1888, following a four-year construction project.


Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

By LISA TRIGG, (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star

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