Homer focuses on artistic roots


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
David Quinlan stands beside a portrait of Jedediah Barber by Francis Carpenter currently on exhibit at the 1890 House Museum in Cortland. The portraits of the founding members of the Homer Board of Education are on display at the museum. School officials hope to display them in the school district.

Staff Reporter

Homer Central School District has some treasures that not everyone knows about.
The district owns 10 portraits painted by Francis B. Carpenter, a world-renowned painter who was born in Homer in 1830 and died in Homer in 1900.
Carpenter painted such works as the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation,” which is on display in the White House. He also has works in Yale University, the New York State Capitol in Albany and at Windsor Castle, the Queen of England’s home.
The 10 paintings owned by the district are on loan to The 1890 House Museum in Cortland, but Homer Board of Education member David Quinlan wants to bring them back to Homer High School. That way, they can be made a part of students’ art and history curriculum, he said.
“It’s a way for them to learn about their own history,” he said. “Often times it’s better to have students to investigate through primary sources available right around them in their area.”
The paintings depict the original Homer school board members and principal. The men were prominent members of the community — some doctors, some lawyers — who started Homer Academy in the early 1800s, Quinlan said.
They must have been important for Carpenter to have returned to Homer to paint them, he said. Carpenter most likely gave the paintings to the school shortly after painting them, Quinlan said.
Quinlan presented his idea at the district’s July 24 board meeting. Board member Nicole Sprouse said she was ashamed as a board member and Homer schools alumni she had not known Carpenter was from Homer.
Board member Paul Phelps questioned whether the paintings would be safe at the school. Students, lighting or air temperature could damage them, he said.
But Quinlan said they should be just fine, if not in better surroundings. They could be hung relatively high up on the walls of the library. The lighting would be indirect and brighter than The 1890 House Museum’s light. And the air temperature would vary less as the museum has no air conditioning.
The board decided to have the paintings photographed and get them appraised. That way they could determine how much insurance coverage to purchase for each painting.
“They could be worth quite a sum of money,” Quinlan said.
At this point the paintings are in excellent condition. Thanks to a couple of thousand dollars in funding from the district, Gay Kingsley, a former Homer student living in Arizona, has conserved nine out of 10 of them since 1993.
Quinlan said it was too bad the school did not apply for grant money available for artwork conservation. But maybe it can look into that option in the future, he said.
“The History Channel offers grants to save American treasures,” he said. “If anything was gifted to the Homer community, students could investigate grants that would help restore gifted articles to the school.”
But right now Quinlan is most concerned with getting the paintings back to Homer High School, he said.
Deanna Pace, director of The 1890 Museum, said she would understand if the Homer School District asked for the Carpenter paintings back.
“They’re certainly welcome to have them back because they’re on loan to us,” she said. “It would be nice if they could be in the school. That’s probably where they belong.”



NAS study may prompt tougher TCE standards

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — A recently released report from the National Academy of Science found that evidence of health problems caused by trichloroethene, the chemical found to have infiltrated a number of homes near the former Smith Corona plant on Route 13, is mounting.
Although much of the research regarding TCE is still somewhat inconclusive, the NAS report, published July 27, said that evidence that TCE is a potential cause of kidney cancer and other illnesses is reason enough for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to push forward in establishing a risk assessment, and with it federal standards for TCE contamination.
“The risk hasn’t necessarily changed, but the more information we gather, the more we think the EPA should finish risk assessment so proper controls could be implemented,” said Dr. Rogene Henderson, who chaired the committee that produced the report.
Currently the EPA does not have set standards for TCE contamination, Henderson said, and such standards are needed to ensure that the thousands of sites nationwide are cleaned up properly, and that TCE levels are safe.
The state Department of Health uses a recommended standard for ambient air, either indoors or outdoors, of 5 micrograms of TCE per cubic meter.
The DOH is aware of the NAS report, spokesperson Claire Postisil said, but she couldn’t say whether the agency would lower its recommended standards based on the report’s findings.
“We agree … that there’s enough scientific information from various studies for EPA to conduct health risk assessment for TCE,” Pospisil said. “We’ll also be considering the report’s findings as we work to finalize the departments’ own health risk assessment for TCE in the environment.”
The DOH is in the process of finalizing a risk assessment for TCE, she said.


Residents await systems to filter TCE

CORTLANDVILLE — Residents in Lamont Circle are looking forward to the arrival in the coming weeks of mitigations that will hopefully eliminate trichloroethene from their homes.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Aug. 16 will begin installing vacuum systems — similar to radon mitigation systems — which will draw contaminated soil vapors from beneath residents’ basements and filter them out of households.
Residents in the western part of Lamont Circle, where levels of contamination were found to be the highest, said DEC workers had been a steady presence in the neighborhood, and they appreciated the work being done.
“They took three days going over my house, taking an inventory of every type of cleaner, glue and stuff that I had in there, so they’ve been very thorough and helpful,” said Morton Parsons, who lives at 784 N. Lamont Drive.
Parsons said pollution had been a concern throughout the 27 years he has lived in the neighborhood.
“Smith Corona was going full tilt when I moved in here,” he said. “I’ve always had concerns — I had already had the house tested for radon, and we knew there was pollution in the area — but I think they did a wonderful job taking care of this.”
Jessica Van Dee, Parsons’  neighbor at 785 N. Lamont Drive, said DEC and Department of Health officials had been keeping her updated on the work being done.
“My neighbors and I have had some concerns about whether it’s safe for us to be in the basement, things like that,” Van Dee said. “We have young kids down here, so that’s why I’m having them put the pipes in.”
— Corey Preston