Exhibit: Paul Sample Mural
National Life Group and the Vermont Historical Society have partnered to preserve and protect a significant painting that for 55 years greeted visitors to the company’s Montpelier headquarters. The mural, Salute to Vermont by prominent artist and Dartmouth College instructor Paul Sample, was installed in 1961 in the lobby of National Life’s then-new headquarters building in Montpelier.
The massive painting, which measures 50 feet across and eight feet high, depicts three-and-a-half centuries of Vermont history, from Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in the Champlain Valley in 1609 to the development of Vermont’s ski industry in the late 1950s.
Over its lifetime, the painting began to show signs of stress due to its installation in a busy office building lobby. To ensure its preservation and broader public access to this important work, it was donated to the Vermont Historical Society.
The mural was removed from the National Life Building in September 2016. It was reinstalled in a new, custom-designed orientation space at the Museum in February 2017.
More about the Mural
Paul Sample, a 1920 graduate of Dartmouth, was the college’s artist-in-residence at the time he was commissioned to paint Salute to Vermont. He created the mural using Liquitex, a plastic-resin emulsion, on two canvases and then joined them, using a vertical maple tree at the center of the painting to hide the join when it was installed in National Life’s new home office. Sample chose to depict more than 50 scenes across the painting, including Vermont’s agricultural heritage, its once-dominant machine tool industry, quarrying, and outdoor pursuits. Politics also make an appearance, from Ethan Allen with a raised fist to Vermont’s original and current State Houses.
Sample left behind observations about the various themes he worked into the painting.
“The use of hands became a very strong interest to me in designing this mural,” Sample said of Salute to Vermont. “You will notice I have repeated the motif of the hands in several places – the upraised hand below Ethan Allen and the hand on the mug, both indicating, perhaps, the tension of that time. Again I used hands in the gesture of prayer in front of the church, in the machine tool scene and, finally, holding the college diploma in the concluding area.”
Emily Phillips, of Phillips Conservation, oversaw the removal and reinstallation.
“The mural was adhered to the Sheetrock wall,” she said. “It was removed by stabilizing the edges of the canvas and slowly, at an acute angle, pulling the canvas away from the wall to break/fracture the adhesive bond. The canvas was rolled onto two large diameter rollers as it is detached to maintain control and safe removal of the painting, working horizontally from left to right."