In the late 1880s and early 1900s, an artist could make a living in the Quad-Cities by creating large murals on commission for churches, businesses and wealthy individuals.
Swedish immigrant Frank Lundahl (1858-1932) was one of those painters.
Anyone who has ever gazed at the dome in Davenport's Capitol Theatre, or seen the altar painting at First Lutheran Church, Moline, has seen his work.
More of his work remain with his descendants, some of whom still live in this area.
Some has been lost — ceiling paintings in the Joseph Huntoon home in Moline played a role in the vigorous community debate surrounding the home's demolition in the mid-1980s. This is a loss that led to the formation of Moline Preservation Society, according society president Diann Moore.
And some pieces — 73, to be exact — are in the art collection of Augustana College, called the Teaching Museum of Art, donated by Lundahl's family.
One that should never be in storage — that should be out for the public to see all the time — is called "The Blacksmith."
It's 6 feet high and 9 feet wide, a larger-than-life depiction of a bearded blacksmith, his left hand poised above his head, a glowing piece of metal in his right.
Claire Kovacs, director of the Augustana museum, believes the painting is intended as a representation of John Deere at the moment he conceived the idea of the self-scouring steel plow. It's not meant to be a portrait so much as an allegory, or story.
Lundahl family history holds that Lundahl painted the work around 1900 on "speculation," hoping that someone, specifically Deere & Co., would buy it. But the company passed, and the painting that Lundahl considered his masterpiece stayed with him.
The canvas was rolled up and stored in a garage until the 1990s when the family donated it and 72 others to Augustana.
Kovacs has started a new program in which she hopes to sign agreements with community partners such as cities, businesses or nonprofit organizations to display some of Lundahl's work in safe places so the public can see it.
I hope "The Blacksmith" gets a good spot. Not only is it an powerful work of art, but it references an invention that broke the prairie (for better or worse) and led to the formation of our largest employer, one with global reach.
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While "The Blacksmith" is over-sized, most of the Lundahl paintings in the Augustana collection are smaller-scale works that he painted for his own enjoyment, depicting Quad-City scenes.
As such, they are a documentation of our heritage. Pictures include horses and horse-drawn carriages, automobiles, riverboats, farm scenes and rock outcroppings.
More about Lundahl and his paintings — and an opportunity to see "The Blacksmith" — will be offered at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, when Kovacs will give a presentation at Augustana.
Her talk is the monthly program of the Moline Preservation Society, which normally meets in Moline. But because the blacksmith painting is at Augustana, the meeting is being moved to Room 12 of Bergendoff Hall, 3701 7th Ave., Rock Island. The building is on the west side of Centennial Hall; you can park east of Centennial.
Lundahl studied art at what is now the Art Institute of Chicago. He created murals that no longer exist for the Second Congregational Church and downtown Public Library, both Moline; and the Illinois Theater, Fraternal Order of Eagles Building and Harms Hotel, all in Rock Island.
As for Kovacs' credentials, she has a doctorate from the University of Iowa and master's and bachelor's degrees from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, all in art history.
Augustana holds 4,200 objects in its art collection, including an extensive group of Native American pottery and paintings and prints by Swedish American artist Berger Sandzén.