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Posted: 05/08/13

A PIECE OF HISTORY. Seen above is the mural created by Helen Starkweather and her art students that depicts Romeo's history. The Romeo United Methodist Church is borrowing the old mural from the Starkweather Arts Center to display it in celebration of Romeo's 175th anniversary. Visitors are encouraged to view the mural and offer insight into its various depictions of the village's past.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Starkweather mural to be
on display during 175th

Information being sought
on history of piece

Observer Staff Writer
      A relic of Romeo's past has resurfaced in celebration of the village's 175th anniversary.
       Residents are invited to view and share any information they have about a large mural titled "The History of Romeo," made by Helen Starkweather and her art students.
       The mural will be displayed at the Romeo United Methodist Church this month. Tours featuring the mural are scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on May 18, and the public is invited to view the mural from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.
       The Starkweather Arts Center loaned the large mural to the church to display it in conjunction with the village's 175th anniversary celebration.
       Tracey Ladd, gallery director for the Starkweather Arts Center, said she is glad the church and the Romeo Historical Society teamed up to show the piece since the art center doesn't have space to hang it.
       "We're pretty happy that the three groups can get together to display something that I know several individuals in the community have been asking to see," Ladd said.
       Julie Nicol, a trustee with the Romeo United Methodist Church, said the church wanted to be involved in the 175th anniversary, so it obtained the mural after resident Linda Schenburn requested it.
       "It was kind of a `whose barn is it in' and it ended up back at Starkweather for us to pick up," Nicol said. "It used to hang in the high school, but at the time the high school would be what we call the middle school building now."
       The mural's estimated measurements are 15-feet long and 12-feet wide. Nicol said the mural was put together over a number of years, with Starkweather inviting her best students to contribute to it each year.
       "It was a working piece, nothing was completed at once," she said.
       She said an exact time period is hard to nail down for when it was made, but the mural's incomplete legend shows the years 1821 to 1938.
       "It says 1938, whether it was at least decided in concept to start it at Michigan's centennial," isn't determined, she said.
       Events, notable figures and locales are all featured on the mural. One painting depicts the 1934 storm that damaged the Methodist church's steeple, while another shows people gathering at Simpson Park. Portraits of the Baileys, the first Peach Queen and Starkweather herself also grace the expansive piece.
       Ilene Lock, a historian with Romeo United Methodist, shed some light on other illustrations, such as an old ambulance, the Great Depression and early Native American settlers.
       One image shows a little boy walking away with a Native American. Lock said the story is that the boy, Alanson Finch, disappeared from the area when he was supposedly taken by Native Americans in 1828.
       "That was big news then," she said.
       Many images are still undeciphered. To try and gather more details, a book has been placed by the mural for people to write down any information or lore when viewing the artwork.
       "We're looking for someone that knows something about this that painted it or knows something about it," Lock said.
       Anyone with information can call the church at (586) 752-9132.
       Starkweather's history
       Starkweather was a lifelong resident of Romeo, teaching art and drafting for more than 40 years in the Romeo school system. She died in 1987 at the age of 84.
       Richard Beringer of the Romeo Historical Society said Starkweather left her estate at 219 N. Main Street to the historical society and the Village of Romeo to promote and foster art appreciation.
       "The Historical Society's responsibility was to select a Board of Directors for the Starkweather Society, and we turned it over to them," he said.
       The board was established in 1989 and became a not-for-profit organization. A decade later, Starkweather's former home and studio was opened to the public as the Starkweather Art and Cultural Center.
       Some of Starkweather's possessions will be on display at the art center on May 17 and 18, such as hats, dress forms and other personal pieces.
       Past students like Fred Buike, now a Utica resident, have fond memories of Starkweather as an art teacher. Though he didn't contribute to her mural, he said he enjoyed her class.
       "It was like having a long lost friend as a teacher," he said. "It's the only class I got an A in, that's how good of a teacher she was."

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