When Bordentown Historical Society co-president Doug Kiovsky came across a painting of Francis Hopkinson in the society’s archives, he knew it couldn’t be shown in the state he found it.
The portrait, painted by Bordentown artist Henry Hartman in the 1970s, was riddled with scratches, discoloration and punctures in the canvas—hardly befitting of Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, composer and designer of the first American flag.
So, with some teamwork, Kiovsky and the historical society started a GoFundMe to raise money to restore the painting in April, and the painting was returned good as new in mid-June.
Kiovsky said he was thrilled with the final result, which was unveiled at the historical society’s meeting in June.
As younger residents have started to join the historical society, Kiovsky said the group has introduced more modern ideas, like raising money online through GoFundMe and establishing a social media presence. One member, Sharon Murray, had the idea to film Kiovsky as the Hopkinson painting was taken to Lawrence Art and Frame Company.
“I’ve only been president since last fall, but we decided even though we had a lot of older members, the younger members said, ‘Let’s do other things, let’s open this as a museum, let’s do rotating exhibits, let’s tell people that we’re here and celebrate all this great Bordentown history,’” Kiovsky said.
The painting itself encompasses two eras of Bordentown’s history: the 1700s with Hopkinson, and the 1970s with Hartman, two well-loved residents who contributed a lot culturally over the years.
Hopkinson signed the Declaration of Independence and designed the first American flag. He was an author and composer, and he designed paper money and coins, too. Hopkinson was also a member of the Second Constitutional Convention, and he served as a federal district judge in Pennsylvania.
Hartman was a semi-well-known artist in the area during his time. In the 1950s, he was commissed by Dell Publishing to create art covers for the Lone Ranger comics. He also worked for the state as an artist for several decades, designing illustrations for DMV publications and other materials. All told, Kiovsky said, Hartman claimed 400 works of art to his name. The Bordentown Historical Society’s archives include a number of them, like original copies and duplications of his Lone Ranger covers.
Kiovsky said Hartman may have been commissioned by the city to paint the Hopkinson portrait.
Once the idea of starting a GoFundMe was established, Kiovsky thought the Hopkinson portrai would be the perfect candidate for restoration. This was the first fundraiser of its kind for the historical society, and he wanted it to reflect the city in a positive way.
“I thought this was kind of cool for the first one,” he said. “It has to do with art, it has to do with Francis Hopkinson. A lot of people know Francis Hopkinson. We have a painting upstairs of Richard Gilder, but outside of Bordentown, not a lot of people know who he was.”
The painting also received a new frame, thanks to Kiovsky’s research. He carefull chose a frame based on what was period-appropriate, and he used some of Philadelphia’s historical sites as inspiration.
“It’s kind of like, ‘If I want to make this look really authentic, do I use a mahogany frame, a gilded frame, an oval in the center like I’ve seen some of them do, a rectangle shape?’” he said.
Unfortunately, beat up paintings and artifacts are common in the historical society’s collection, and, Kiovsky said, with other historical societies in general. While the BHS keeps some larger artifacts at an offsite facility, the top floor of its Farnsworth Avenue headquarters is packed with an “eclectic mix” of smaller items, Kiovsky said. Those include portraits, files, furniture, knick-knacks and more. Though not everything is original, he added, much of what the society collects is fragile.
“Over the years, with a lot of historical societies, you don’t really have an adequate place to store everything,” Kiovsky said. “I looked upstairs about a year ago, and paintings were stacked on top of paintings, which is not good, and this was like a canvas type. It had rip marks, scratch marks, everything.
“If you have artifacts that just sit up there, they’re not properly conserved, they get beat up, scratched up. Then, when you want to do a rotating exhibit, they can’t do it because now it looks like crap. The chair needs to be fixed up or the painting needs to be fixed up, and then you say, ‘Well, I can’t put that up.’”
That is exactly what happened with the Hopkinson painting. Kiovsky came aross it during preparations for a Battle of the Kegs event, and he thought it could be good to use, since some of Hopkinson’s songs were going to be included in the celebration. Once he saw the condition it was in, though, he knew it couldn’t be used—at least not yet.
Kiovsky said the society plans on holding another GoFundMe in the fall.
“We’re trying to mix these things up so it doesn’t become, like, going to the well every single time, ‘Oh my God, they’re asking for more money,’” he said.
This summer, the Bordentown Historical Society has several open houses scheduled: July 6, July 13, Aug. 3 and Aug. 17. The BHS is located at 302 Farnsworth Avenue in Bordentown City. To donate, send checks payable to the Bordentown Historical Society, PO Box 182, Bordentown, NJ, 08505.