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Painting becomes 3-D version, piece by piece for Westmoreland Museum

| Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 9:20 p.m.
Westmoreland Museum of American Art
“Fruit and Wine,”1858, by John Francis (1808-1886)

Mark Henry has moved his diorama skills from dinosaurs to a real-life still-life.

He is doing a 3-D version of “Fruit and Wine,” the famous 1858 painting by John Francis (1808-1886).

His creation will debut at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art's temporary Westmoreland @rt 30 site at an invitation-only event Aug. 28 with comments from Henry, the art-trained owner of Chef Mark's Palate restaurant in Latrobe.

“There is just so much detail in this project,” says Henry, who, at one point in his career, worked for a firm that made wildlife and prehistoric dioramas for museums. “This is a question of duplicating everything.”

The two still-lifes will be on display to the public Aug. 29 through 31.

“Fruit and Wine,” which was given to the Westmoreland Museum in 1978 by an anonymous donor, has just returned after being loaned since 2013 to museums in Chicago and Fort Worth.

“We wanted to celebrate the return of the painting and all that it means to us,” says chief curator Barbara L. Jones.

Bree Larkin, manager of events, knew of chef Henry's artistic skills and came up with the idea of him making a reproduction of the painting with real oranges, nuts, bottles of port and filled glasses.

The painting, in some ways, symbolizes the work of museum groups and people connected with the institution, Jones says.

Before it was loaned out, the painting was conserved by Christine Daulton with funds raised by Greensburg's Robert Myers, a retired art teacher and administrator from Westmoreland County Community College. He says he was working in memory of art historian Josie Piller, who taught at St. Vincent College and Carlow University, and died in 2012.

Along with the conservation, a new frame was acquired, funded in part by the Women's Committee of the Westmoreland, Jones says.

The task of reproducing a painting is not as easy as putting pieces of fruit on a table, Henry says.

For instance, the angle of sight of the painting is perfect for “someone who is about 3 12 feet tall,” he says. To give a viewer the proper look at the real-life, he is creating a table that is about 4 12 feet tall.

There are other issues to be considered, as well, he says. For instance, how do you provide the proper amount of light coming from the left to give the shadow on the right side of the table? And what material surrounds the bottom of the glasses. He believes it is silver, so has painted the glasses that way.

Then, there is the pitcher. It bears the look of high-class pottery. To imitate it, he has put some clay pieces on a pitcher he found.

“You even have to make sure the wrinkles in the tablecloth are in the right spots,” he says.

Such issues are nothing new for Henry. He was educated in an art program through the University of Maryland and worked at the Jonas Studios in New York, doing wildlife dioramas. He then became intrigued by food preparation and went to the Culinary Institute of New York City.

His work with Jonas, he says, sharpened his eye to look at matters in the same way a painter would.

“After all, what is a diorama other than a look out of a certain window at a certain time,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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