School Librarian Becomes an Art Detective

After years of wondering, Noel MacCary, a school librarian in Westerchester County, New York was able to prove the provenance of a large mural-like painting that has hung outside his library at Pequenakonck Elementary School.  Through research, interviews with local residents and contacting experts he was able to prove that children book author and illustrator, Robert McCloskey was the artist.

MacCary had heard that at one time  McCloskey, the two-time Caldecott Medalist for Make Way for the Ducklings (Viking, 1941) and Time of Wonder (Viking, 1957), had lived in Croton Falls, NY.  The community is part of the North Salem Central School District and some residents remembered that McCloskey’s daughter attending school in the district. However, McCloskey residency predated the 1972 construction of the elementary school.

MacCary was spurred on in his search for authentication when he found in the library files a handwritten note to a former school librarian discussing the possible origins for the artwork.  He contacted noted children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus in October, 2013 and with Marcus help they contacted McCloskey’s daughter, Jane.   She confirmed that in 1955 while living in the area McCloskey struck a deal with Vic Johnson, a local dentist.  In exchange for dental work, McCloskey would paint a mural for the dentist’s office.  It is assumed that the artwork was given to the school in the early 70’s when Johnson closed his practice. Teachers recalled that over the years the mural was moved by a custodian who was not particularly fond of the artwork to several obscure locations at the school. It now hangs in a hall outside the school library newly framed and encased in glass thanks to the school’s PTO.

The painting  that is painted on masonite board depicts a group of various birds found near the sea.  McCloskey did live for a period of time along the coast of Maine.  "Robert McCloskey was a mural painter before he was a picture book artist,” Leonard Marcus explains.  “It's interesting to realize that he never abandoned that initial impulse to work large and fill walls with art for all to see.”

MacCarry has been at the school for over 20 years and will be a debut author himself in 2015 with a biography of Pete Seeger being published by Grossett & Dunlap.