Student art from 1940s gives glimpse of Manor Borough history
Nestled behind desks and under a water pipe in Hempfield Area High School’s basement sat five pieces of Manor history in the form of original art.
The paintings give a glimpse into what the borough looked like in 1943-44 from the perspective of Manor School students.
“You see the age on them, and you know these 19 kids worked on them,” said Jim Steeley, Hempfield’s English department chairman. “We made it our project. It’s part of the history of the district; it’s the history of the community; it’s the history of Manor.”
Seventy-five years after the works were painted, Steeley and Ed Lasko, art department chairman for the high school, are working to find a permanent location where the public and Hempfield Area students can view them year-round, learning about the history of Manor and the art.
Standing on the steps leading to the entrance of Manor School, a group of students posed for a picture with art teacher Mary Glunt in 1943.
That year, the students were split into five groups of three or four and asked to paint something that was meaningful to the Manor community. The bottom of each painting is labeled — Bushy Run, Steel, School, Farm and Subway.
In a painting titled Busy Run, students depicted a large brown building with a path. A sign and a possible well sit in the foreground.
While the location of the steel foundry has not been identified, Steeley and Lasko ruled out the Hockensmith Foundry in the Irwin area. The picture shows five working men, sparks flying and liquid steel pouring into containers.
The school painting shows Manor School with a hill and several houses in the background. A car is depicted driving past.
The farm picture was identified as Walthour Farm. The painting shows a house and barn, with a stream running across the bottom of the painting. According to Steeley, the house in the picture is still standing, but the land around it was sold for a housing development.
The subway shows a train moving on an overpass. Stairs lead up to the top on the left side of the painting. Steeley said no one has identified where the underpass was in Manor.
“For students … they’re rough,” Steeley said. “But if you look at them, they’re really beautiful.”
Steeley and Lasko are working to find out more about what certain paintings represent and to identify the painters. So far, they have found five painters who are still living, including John Raynor.
Now 90, Raynor doesn’t remember painting a picture of Manor School, but his signature in the bottom right corner proves he was there.
His daughter, Denise Engler, hopes to take him to see the paintings, giving Steeley and Lasko some insight into what they depict. Engler said her dad is still able to identify road names and his fellow students.
“It’s really interesting when you try to research these people and it’s 75 years later,” Steeley said. “There’s a story here we’re trying to tell and we have this general outline and now we’re trying to fill in the details.”
Finding the art
The paintings stayed in Manor School until it closed in 1990. From there, they moved to a school in New Stanton until it closed. The five paintings then were moved to Stanwood Elementary School, but renovations pushed them to the high school.
“I’m just surprised nobody threw them out,” Steeley said.
The paintings sat until about two years ago, when High School Principal Kathleen Charlton took Lasko to see them when they were found by Rob Ronald, district maintenance.
But limited funds stopped Lasko from being able to do anything with the paintings.
Almost a year later, Lasko and Steeley came together and decided it was time to tell the history of the paintings. They were moved to the high school’s library, where conditions are better and students can see them.
From there, Steely and Lasko started applying for grants to have the work restored. Finally, the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County gave them a $6,000 grant.
After receiving the money, the paintings were sent to the Painting Conservation Laboratory in Johnstown for restoration.
Now, the teachers are working to compile a history of the work through video and a pamphlet.
On March 4, the paintings will be transported to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg where they will be on display for two or three months, Lasko said.
“We’re just thrilled to be able to do this,” Steeley said.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter @MeganTomasic.