WPSU-TV Public Media (Channel 3) will broadcast the documentary “Reclaiming History” about the restoration of a 19th century oil painting that now hangs in the KOA Speer Lobby of Blaisdell Hall at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
Pitt-Bradford commissioned the 36-minute film by award-winning filmmakers Adrian Selkowitz and Rufus Lusk. It will air twice: at 9 p.m. Monday, April 11, and at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 12. The documentary may air additional times after that.
The film tells the story about how Italian artist Tommaso Juglaris painted a 15-foot by 9-foot scene of Venice, Italy, in which the great painter Paolo Veronese enjoys a gondola ride with a beautiful woman, troubadours and a gondolier. Juglaris painted the scene while in Paris and entered the painting in the famed Paris Salon, where it earned an honorable mention.
Several years later, he moved to the United States, bringing the painting with him and eventually selling it to wealthy oil executive and Pennsylvania Sen. Lewis Emery, who lived in Bradford. When Emery died, the painting became a focal point in a hotel built by his daughter to honor his memory.
Decades later, Pitt-Bradford purchased the Emery Hotel to become a residence hall for its students. The university’s president asked a campus supporter to store the painting for safe-keeping and had it crated and sent to a warehouse owned by Carl E. Swanson.
There it sat for nearly 60 years until Swanson’s grandson, Al Swanson, found it while cleaning out the warehouse in preparation for his own retirement. He remembered his father mentioning a large crate that belonged to the university and called a friend who worked there.
The university evaluated whether the painting could be restored and chose to undertake the project and document it as well.
The film tells the story of the painter, the painting, its owners and restoration through interviews with Juglaris scholar Dr. Geoffrey Drutchas; Matthew Hileman, manager of the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center and instructor of art history; Sally Costik, executive director of the Bradford Landmark Society; Rick and Meredith Fesenmyer, descendants of Emery; Rick Esch, interim president of Pitt-Bradford; and conservators Jeffrey Johnson and Jacintha Clark.
Then-students Haley Madl, a history-political science major from Beaver, and Devon Briggs, a double-major in history-political science and international affairs, assisted with research for the documentary. Then-student Danica Andrews, a broadcast communications major from Greensville, assisted with filming. Alexis Horning, a psychology major with a minor in art from Bradford, helped with the restoration itself.
Patricia Colosimo, director of arts programming, served as project director for both the restoration and the documentary.