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Treasure quest: Antique collector seeking home for huge mural of Spokane

A huge canvas painting depicting the small city of Spokane Falls in 1884 needs a new home.

Antique collector Dinah Carlson has it hanging in her garage after it was given to her by a neighbor who didn’t know what to do with it.

The owner, Barbara Armstrong, has since died, so the painting is now part of her estate, Carlson said.

Armstrong told Carlson that she had obtained the mural from a boyfriend who had said it once decorated a Spokane bank.

Carlson has been trying on behalf of Armstrong’s children to find someone to buy the piece.

“I think it’s a treasure,” Carlson said. “I think it’s so historical.”

The oil painting on canvas is 149 inches wide and 89 inches tall. An inscription on the back indicates it was completed in 1938 and signed by an artist with the last name of Hart.

It is clearly an artist’s rendition of the 1884 Bird’s Eye View of Spokane Falls in what was then Washington Territory.

The view shows the emerging city just five years before the 1889 fire destroyed much of downtown.

The artist added his or her own touches to the view, including a pair of Native Americans on horseback. One of the two is carrying a papoose. There is also a group of men apparently fishing at the base of the Lower Spokane Falls.

The painting carries most of the features of the original Bird’s Eye View map, including two steam trains on the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railway line that ran along the south side of the city.

Washington State University has an image of the same map in its digital exhibits.

Bird’s Eye View maps were popular in the U.S. starting in the mid-1800s and were made possible by advances in lithographic printing.

WSU identifies the creator of the Spokane Falls map as Henry Wellge. The publisher was Beck & Pauli, of Milwaukee.

The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, said in an online essay that the period saw an “insatiable thirst for city portraits.”

A small group of artists crisscrossed the country making the images from an imaginary perspective above ground level – the view from a bird’s eye. The practice of creating such maps dates back to 15th-century Europe, the museum said.

Carlson, who owns Lillian Conn Antiques at 1001 W. Augusta Ave., said she tried to interest Spokane city officials and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in purchasing the mural, but they declined.

She said she would like to see the artwork hanging in a public place. It likely needs cleaning and restoration. An 8-inch strip from the left margin has detached from the rest of the mural, which had been left rolled up for years, she said.

If no public use can be found for the wall hanging, Carlson said, the piece would also look good in the right home. She has not put a price on it yet, but she guessed it may be worth several thousand dollars.

Members of the Spokane Preservation Advocates will get a chance to see the mural June 10 when they hold their monthly meeting at Carlson’s home on Thorpe Road.

She said she plans to turn over any proceeds to Armstrong’s children.

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