Adventures of Ping: Restoring a One-of-a-Kind Painting

  • Students at Winslow Elementary School wondered aloud for weeks about what had been placed discreetly on the cafeteria wall. Their unrelenting curiosity was rewarded in 2009 as a decades-old painting - hidden behind a purple veil - emerged from storage.

    As part of a school-wide lesson, Winslow students learned about the painting’s origins, its ties to a once-beloved children’s book titled “The Story About Ping,” and how the school came to possess this special artwork.

    The painting, displayed for decades in the school’s foyer, was removed several years before to prevent it from sustaining further damage. Principal Andrea Hyatt became interested in having it restored when her predecessor, Ron Springer, showed her where it was stored. Recognizing a unique learning opportunity, Dr. Hyatt encouraged students and staff members to take part in a months-long project to breathe new life into the unique piece.

    “I am so excited that I have butterflies in my stomach,” Dr. Hyatt told children at an assembly. “That does not happen to me very often. We have a beautiful painting in our building and you are about to learn a lot about it.”

    Students were shown a video in which dozens of children, who researched the background of the painting, explained what they learned. They worked closely with Library Media Specialist Catherine Anderson, who shared an undated letter in the library archives that shed some light on the painting’s past.

    In 1923, Beatrice DeLima Meyers opened the Rochester Children’s Bookshop at 293 Alexander Street in Rochester. After reading “Alice in Wonderland,” she was inspired to open a store that was created with children in mind. The bookstore was such a success that significant authors and illustrators often visited to give talks and workshops.

    Kurt Wiese, a German immigrant and award-winning illustrator of children’s books, was one of those visitors. Wiese, who illustrated the original “Bambi” book, was responsible for the artwork in “The Story About Ping,” which was written by Marjorie Flack. The story, about a duck from China, is considered by some to be the ‘Goodnight Moon’ of the 1930s and 1940s because of its popularity among young readers then. During his career, Wiese created artwork that was featured in nearly 300 books.

    Wiese created a huge painting depicting a scene from one of the pages of the story and gave it to the bookstore. After the shop closed in 1962, Meyers’s granddaughter, Toni Mitchell, gave the painting to Winslow, where her children attended school. Former students fondly recall counting the small ducks depicted in the image each time they walked by the mural.

    Since 2009, new memories of the mural have been made. As one student remarked on the day Ping was unveiled in the cafeteria, “I hope the kids at Winslow realize what a treasure it is.”

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