Street Stories

Century-old art uncovered on walls of Providence restaurant

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) --- A surprising discovery on Broadway started with one of the most annoying and sloppy renovation projects out there.

Safe to say, no one likes to remove wallpaper, especially three layers of it.

But the owners of the soon-to-open Maria's Cucina did not like the look of the walls in the foyer of their newly leased space in the Italo American Club.

Chris Spertini and co-owner Greg Costantino were watching as the scraping started.

"So, they peel the wallpaper and they get through a couple to three layers and now the paste is on the wall from 1897," Spertini said.

The late 1890's is the era when the three-story structure was built as a single family home.

Through the cloud of goopy mess, they saw faint, century-old brush strokes.

"'They sprayed some water. Wiped it," Spertini recalled. "We start to see these murals underneath the paste."

When asked what everyone thought, Spertini realized they found something valuable.

"This could only be gold," he said with a smile.

They kept prospecting with metal scrapers until Costantino became protective of what might be there.

"And Gregory says, 'Wait a minute, whoa, whoa, whoa, hold the phone. Let me get some rubber scrapers.'" 

Soon the treasure was uncovered. It was hand painted, signed scenes from Greece and Italy.

"It was just absolutely amazing," Spertini said. "And we said boy, now we don't have to paint. Now, all we have to do is find someone who can restore them."

That "someone" turned out to be their friend and artist Gregory LaSalle.

"Sponging, dry brushing," LaSalle said, as he touched up the strokes. "It was interesting to take the paper off and see what was underneath. I think someone was very proud to leave this here."

LaSalle and others are convinced the art is original to the walls since the scenes are painted directly on the plaster.

He said the names of the original artists are on various corners of the multi-wall murals, but not legible.

LaSalle is "painting anything that's missing without touching the original," and he said he will sign his work.

But his goal is for no one to notice he was even there.

"And I ask the gentlemen, stand back, do you see where the new starts?" LaSalle said. "I watch them staring and they say nope. Just what I was hoping for."

When the foyer murals are restored, everyone involved is hoping to find more gold sometime in the future under the wallpaper in another area of the building.

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.


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