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Skagit County family mural’s mystery solved

A large mural by William Cumming is displayed Aug. 8 at the Skagit County Fair in Mount Vernon, Wash. (Associated Press)
A large mural by William Cumming is displayed Aug. 8 at the Skagit County Fair in Mount Vernon, Wash. (Associated Press)

Painting traced back to 1941

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – The mystery of an original William Cumming mural recently discovered in the Breckenridge barn may finally be solved as new details about the painting’s history come to light.

The mural was painted as part of a National Youth Administration program for Burlington High School’s new Farm Shop, which was dedicated in a public ceremony on Oct. 29, 1941, Anacortes Art Museum Educator Bret Lunsford discovered.

The mural’s origins were revealed when Lunsford obtained permission to look through Skagit Publishing’s archives. He wanted to examine back issues to see if the painting had been newsworthy 73 years ago, he said, and he quickly found what he was looking for.

“I didn’t know what I was going to find, but I got lucky – I found it within 20 minutes,” Lunsford said.

The Burlington Journal reported in 1941 that Cumming worked for more than six months on the painting, which depicts Burlington community history. The mural was meant to inspire and prepare students for an agricultural job market, Lunsford said.

The discovery of the mural has garnered national attention from art lovers and news outlets – an outcome Charlotte Breckenridge said she never expected. The Breckenridge family received phone calls about the mural from all across the country, she said.

“My life is simple,” she said. “This has been so mysterious and complicated.”

The painting is estimated to be worth about a half a million dollars, said Seattle art dealer John Braseth, but is worth even more as a cultural asset. Five art historians have contacted Braseth about doing research on the history of the piece, he said.

“I met with Bill (Cumming)’s widow and it was very emotional,” Braseth said. “She kept saying how much he would have enjoyed this.”

The painting is currently being stored safely and has been insured, Tony Breckenridge said.

Despite the high price tag, the family doesn’t intend to sell the mural. They hope it will be displayed somewhere in Skagit County, Charlotte Breckenridge said.

“Money can’t buy happiness and health,” she said. “We want to keep it in the county where people will really appreciate it.”