Conservation Projects with Surprises at the Governor’s Mansion

By on 18 June, 2014 in Art, Carole King, Historic preservation with 2 Comments

Restoration of the public rooms of the Governor’s Mansion continues with the completion of two art conservation projects. Recently, First Lady Dianne Bentley presided over the unveiling of the newly conserved painting in the Mansion’s historic collection, Mountain Tops in Snow, painted by Thomas Moran in 1878 and donated to the Mansion in 1977.

The provenance of Mountain Tops in Snow is as interesting as the painting itself. The painting came from the estate of noted Birmingham industrialist Robert Ingersoll Ingalls Sr. Born in Ohio, Ingalls came to Birmingham in 1910 at the age of 28, starting a business with one employee and a mule. In time, he founded Ingalls Iron Works, initially producing ornamental ironwork, but branched out into steel fabrication and shipbuilding. During World War II, he built Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi into the largest shipyard on the Gulf Coast. When Ingalls died in 1951, he left behind the nation’s fourth largest shipyard and one of the biggest independent steel companies. That year, the combined Ingalls Industries grossed over $200 million. Today, Ingalls Shipbuilding is part of multi-billion dollar Huntingdon Ingalls Industries, which has built more ships in more ship classes than any other U.S. naval shipbuilder. Ingalls was also a great philanthropist and many other artworks from Ingalls’ personal collection are owned by the Birmingham Museum of Art.

 Moran photos

The artist, Thomas Moran (1837-1926), is regarded as one of the foremost artists of Western exploration. His artwork was so associated with the West that he was referred to as T. “Yellowstone” Moran, and his work inspired Congress to establish Yellowstone National Park. By the time of his death, many of his favorite painting scenes had officially become National Parks.

A British art conservator, Dr. Crawford volunteered her professional services for this conservation project. Dr. Crawford, whose husband, Wing Commander Jason Crawford of the Royal Air Force, was attending Air War College at Maxwell AFB, decided to take some time off from her career to accompany him to Montgomery. She received her doctorate in conservation from the University of Lincoln with expertise in paint analysis and has worked on projects at Kensington Palace, London’s Egyptian Cultural Centre and Education Bureau and Lincoln Cathedral, just to name a few — and now she can add the Alabama Governor’s Mansion to her credentials.

While cleaning the canvas backing of the Moran landscape, Dr. Crawford noticed that it was separating from the hardboard to which the canvas was attached.  Upon further examination, Dr. Crawford discovered that a portrait of a young lady had been glued to the back of Moran’s landscape. Period clothing expert Ryan Blocker of the Alabama Department of Archives and History has dated the lady’s garments to around 1900. The artist of the unsigned portrait is unknown, as is the identity of the subject. The connection, if any, to famed artist Thomas Moran, is open to speculation. Nevertheless, the history of the two paintings has been connected for well over half a century, perhaps much longer.


Dr. Crawford has now also finished the conservation of Portrait of a Young Lady, as it is now officially named.  She and Stonehenge of Montgomery worked together to restore the period gold leaf frame which was contributed by the Department of Archives and History. The portrait has been placed on exhibit in the Mansion’s drawing room, near Moran’s landscape and the touch of mystery surrounding it makes it all the more interesting. Visitors to the Mansion will surely enjoy this lovely new addition to the Mansion’s historic collection.

Thanks to Mrs. Bentley’s interest in protecting the Mansion, the First Lady Dianne Bentley Governor’s Mansion Preservation Act was passed by the legislature in 2011. It created the Governor’s Mansion Authority (GMA), tasking it with ensuring the historical and architectural integrity of the Mansion’s exterior, interior, and grounds. Through a Memorandum of Agreement with the GMA, the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion assist with the acquisition of appropriate furnishings for the public rooms and enriching projects such as this. Karen Benton, Chairman of the Friends’ Furnishings and Acquisitions Committee closely monitored the conservation projects and graciously contributed this information.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jay Croft says:

    This brings to mind the “Helga” paintings of Andrew Wyeth, who died not too long ago.

    He painted Helga in many poses over many years, but Wyeth’s wife did not know about these paintings or about Helga. Was Moran enamoured of this mysterious lady?

  2. David Nelson says:

    dear Carole: A very interesting article and certainly agree, Mrs. Diane Bentley should be commended for her preservation efforts! -David Nelson

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