Peaks Island Elementary School is dedicating this mural by painter Claude Montgomery on Tuesday evening. The painting is signed 1950. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A historic mural of Portland Harbor once destined for the dump has a new home at the Peaks Island School, where the painter who created the mural, Claude Montgomery, learned his earliest art lessons.

The school and the island community will dedicate the mural during a celebration of the school’s 150th anniversary Thursday, rescheduled from Tuesday. The mural, a 6-foot-by-12-foot canvas-on-plywood depiction of Portland Harbor that Montgomery painted in 1950, is hanging in the school near the office.

Montgomery, who died in 1990, attended school on Peaks as a youngster, said Kate Sykes, co-chair of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America. The Southern Maine DSA has been trying to find a public home for the mural since last year, when it got involved with the mural’s rescue and took on its placement as a project of its arts and culture committee.

“We really wanted it in public hands. There’s a difference between public art and nonprofit art funded through private donations. We really wanted this to be in the public domain, and we’re really happy the Peaks Island School stepped forward,” Sykes said. “The challenge is that it’s quite large, and finding a wall space large enough that was inside to protect it from the elements limited the possibilities of a recipient who could display it.”

Peaks Island emerged as the home for the mural when one of the artist’s daughters, Nancy Beebe, got involved. She lives on Peaks in the summer and offered to store the mural. She worked with the school and the Southern Maine DSA to place the mural. Beebe couldn’t be reached to discuss the project.

A builder who was renovating Montgomery’s former home in Georgetown saved the mural when the home’s new owners decided they didn’t want it and didn’t know what to do with it. The builder, John Hart, is friends with Sykes and called her to ask if she had an interest in the mural.


The Peaks Island School seems like a perfect solution, Sykes said. “Nancy is a member of the community, and the artist actually attended elementary school there. So when the school came up, we all thought it would be most ideal,” she said.

Hart and Beebe both plan to attend the dedication Tuesday evening, along with many other members of Montgomery’s family, Sykes said.

Montgomery painted a view of the city looking across from South Portland. In the painting, he elongates time to include three-masted schooners, steamships, ferries and working boats in the harbor, and compresses space to include Fort Gorges, the Portland Observatory and City Hall, as well as what might be Portland Head Light in the location of Bug Light.

Montgomery was born in Portland in 1912 and graduated from Portland High and what is now Maine College of Art, the latter in 1935. He painted major figures of Maine, including the late Leon Leonwood Bean and Sen. Edmund Muskie. The Society of American Etchers named his drypoint etching of an old man on the waterfront, ″Ol’ Joe,″ one of the 100 best prints of 1937, and two years later that same etching won a silver medal at the Paris International Exhibition.

He also painted landscapes and seascapes, and Down East magazine used his paintings on its covers in the 1960s. He was a member of both the American Watercolor Society and the Royal Society of Arts in London.

Montgomery lived for more than 30 years in Tulsa, Oklahoma, beginning in the 1940s, and returned to Maine to live year-round in 1979.

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