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Fallen Timbers battle painting to re-emerge

A historically significant painting that depicts the Battle of Fallen Timbers will soon return to public display after its owner donated the artwork to the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Preservation Commission.

“We couldn’t be happier this is being saved,” commission president Julia Wiley said.

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The large painting depicting the Battle of Fallen Timbers that hung in the closed Charter One Bank building downtown is being donated by David Ball, the building’s owner, to the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Commission.

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For 87 years, the painting of Gen. Anthony Wayne’s 1794 victory over British-backed Native Americans hung prominently on the rear wall of what was originally the People’s Savings Association bank building on North Huron Street in downtown Toledo.

But when Charter One, the bank’s most recent operator, closed the branch for good more than three years ago, one of Toledo’s most important works of art was plunged into darkness. At the time, the painting’s future was uncertain.

Now, with a pair of prospective buyers looking at the possibility of repurposing the old bank and renovations imminent, building owner David Ball sought out Ms. Wiley to see if her group would like to have the painting.

The answer was an enthusiastic yes, but with one major caveat. The nonprofit commission doesn’t have a site anywhere near large enough to display it.

Including the original bronze frame, the painting measures a whopping 15 feet high by 25 feet wide.

“The only building that’s out there is just a remodeled ranch home, so there are no walls anywhere close to that size,” Ms. Wiley said.

However, the two parties found a willing partner in St. Luke’s Hospital, which agreed to serve as a temporary home for the artwork until the preservation commission is in a position to move forward with a dedicated visitor’s center. St. Luke’s will install the work in an auditorium on the east side of the complex.

Kelle Pack, president of St. Luke’s Hospital Foundation, said the hospital is happy to help as long as it’s needed. Because of the auditorium’s position within the building and its frequent use by outside groups, she said the painting should be plenty accessible and well within the public eye.

Mr. Ball is delivering the painting on Saturday.

“I just think it needs to stay here in our community,” he said. “It’s really a local piece, and I think it needs to stay here. We’re really excited about it being here and we’re excited about St. Luke’s help.”

The People’s Savings Association commissioned the painting for a 1930 renovation of the bank as a way to honor General Wayne and the effect the battle had on northwest Ohio and the United States.

His victory near the banks of the Maumee is widely seen as having set in motion the opening of western expansion for the young nation.

The painting itself was done by Ettore Caser, a well-known Italian-American who died in 1944. The bank spent more than $17,000 to commission the painting, a sum equivalent to more than $260,000 today.

Beyond its depiction of such an important local event, Ms. Wiley said the painting is a historical artifact in its own right because of how it shows the evolution of our understanding of the battle.

In the painting, the main action of the fight is shown on the floodplain just above the Maumee River. More recent research, including pair of archaeological surveys in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, has pinpointed the actual battle site slightly further to the north, above the floodplain.

“It’s almost like a little time capsule or history book saying this is what was known then,” Ms. Wiley said. “To me, it’s a testament to why it’s important to keep learning and investigating these events, because since then we’ve learned so much more, and it just makes it an even richer story than what we knew then.”

Metroparks Toledo owns the battlefield site, though it has worked closely with the commission to develop the site as a historic park.

Ms. Wiley said the preservation commission hopes to develop its existing building into an interpretive center ahead of the 225th anniversary of the battle in 2019. Down the road, they would like to construct a purpose-built visitor’s center that would prominently feature the artwork.

It’s possible the donation of the painting and the buzz it creates could build some momentum for that.

“We’re hoping to use this to spur some interest in getting the actual visitor’s center,” Mr. Ball said. “If you look around the country, places that have built [visitor’s centers] on historical sites that important, they’re a wonderful economic tool. We’re hoping it plays a bigger role than just a donation.”

Mr. Ball declined to say exactly what the future might be for the old bank building, but described one prospect as a “community”-based option and the other as a typical office development. He said he hopes to announce a plan by the end of the year.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com419-724-6134, or on Twitter @TyrelLinkhorn.

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