WATERVILLE – Diane Bryan read an email at home early Tuesday morning that said there was a present for her at the office.

The executive director of the Waterville Opera House said she was expecting a hot cup of coffee. The gift, as it turned out, was for the entire community – a canvas mural painted more than 100 years ago that had been found on the ceiling in front of the stage.

“It’s one of those finds that’s thrilling and exciting,” said Bryan, who credited Dave Foulke with the discovery.

The opera house is amid a $4.3 million addition and renovation project, and Foulke was preparing the theater ceiling for painting.

In doing the work, he uncovered a bit of the mural. Then, Bryan said, he uncovered more and more until the entire scene was revealed. The mural depicts two women with instruments, four cherubs and garland.

Bryan said that for at least three decades, the mural had been lost behind a coat of off-white paint.

“What were they thinking?” she said.

In a strange way, though, the overcoat may have helped preserve the piece of art. Bryan said Foulke removed the 4-by-9-foot mural nearly intact from the ceiling.

“This wasn’t a Michelangelo situation,” Bryan said.

In other words, it was easily removable, unlike the 16th-century Italian artist’s mural on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which was painted directly onto the ceiling.

Bryan said research indicated the mural may have been painted at Mortenson and Holdensen on Boylston Street in Boston, then brought to the opera house, built in 1902, and glued to the ceiling.

The mural is visible in a 1906 photograph of a performance at the opera house.

Bryan said inquiries are being made about preserving the find. She said she would like to see it hung in the opera house lobby, so when the facility reopens next year the public can enjoy it.

Another suggestion is to have a replica made of the mural that can be put on the ceiling, she said.

Bryan said Kimberly Lindlof, chairwoman of the Waterville Opera House board of directors, had one of the best takes on the discovery.

“She said, ‘That’s a much better find than asbestos,’ ” Bryan said.

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Beth Staples can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

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