Saratoga County

WWI battle mural finds new home

A large painting of a World War I battle scene, featuring soldiers from New York state, is now on

PHOTOGRAPHER:

A large painting of a World War I battle scene, featuring soldiers from New York state, is now on display at the New York State Military Museum on Lake Avenue.

The 1937 painting by artist George Gray was created as a mural for the former Hendrick Hudson Hotel in Troy.

Then the 6-foot-by-20-foot artwork spent some time in the Troy Armory. When that facility was closed, the painting was transported to the Schenectady National Guard Armory.

Three weeks ago, it was packed up again and trucked from Schenectady to the state Military Museum and Veterans Research Center at 61 Lake Ave.

The painting shows the breaking of the Hindenburg Line during World War I, Michael Aikey, state museum director, said. The line was a system of trenches and bunkers built by the Germans in northern France in 1916-17 that they considered to be impregnable, but was overwhelmed in a series of Allied offensives in 1917-18.

Aikey said New York’s 27th Division, commanded by Gen. John F. O’Ryan, played a major role in that battle.

“It’s a perfect fit for here,” Aikey said. The painting hangs in the museum’s main exhibit area.

He said during World War I, Company L of the 105th New York National Guard marched off to war out of the former Lake Avenue Armory (now the military museum) to the Saratoga Springs train station to board trains taking them to ships that would carry them to Europe. The 105th was part of the 27th Division.

Eric Durr, public relations director for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs, said the Schenectady Armory will eventually be closed and sold.

He said Aikey and the museum staff are going around to such armories to see what artifacts might be worthy of display in the state military museum.

“In these armories are historical items,” Durr said.

He said the museum people review, identify and catalog such items for possible inclusion at the museum.

This way the state’s military heritage is being preserved, Durr said.

Eric Stott, a history technician at the state museum, has done considerable research on the George Gray painting.

He said the painting was created as a mural for the famous Troy hotel’s tap room. Three U.S. presidents have spoken at the Hendrick Hudson Hotel, which is currently the site of the Tosca Restaurant.

Gray was born in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1907. He served as a combat artist for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and also did a lot of private, commissioned art projects before and after World War II.

He was a staff artist for the New York National Guardsman and such publications as the U.S. Infantry Journal, creating front cover paintings, Stott said.

His commissioned work can still be seen at old hotels and historical society museum across the state.

For example, a series of murals depicting dramatic moments in Fort Ontario’s history were created for the former Pontiac Hotel in Oswego.

These paintings eventually found their way to the H. Lee White Marine Museum.

Stott said Gray often painted these hotel murals using local topics and historical themes.

There are still some of Gray’s murals hanging at the former Hendrick Hudson Hotel, he said.

Many of these murals are of a large scale, like the painting now hanging in the state military museum.

“He seemed to be prolific, well-trained at good schools of the day,” Stott said about Gray. He was still active in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Stott said Gray is deceased, but he was not sure of the year of his death.

Gray’s painting of the Hidenburg Line breakthrough will remain on display as part of the museum’s permanent collection. Admission to the state military museum is free.

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