Dot Bunn Speaks About her Strawberry Mansion Mural

Dot Bunn Speaks About her Strawberry Mansion Mural

On the evening of October 22 Bucks County studio oil painter Dot Bunn gave the Bucks County Illustrators Society the fun and informative behind-the-scenes details of her formidable project of the room-size mural she painted in Philadelphia’s historic Strawberry Mansion. She asked PAFA oil painter Patrick Connors to assist her on the project, and together they covered the 500-square-foot wall with a stunning panorama of Philadelphia’s 19th century harbor, town buildings and countryside. For the most part, Dot painted the nature and landscape parts of the mural, and Patrick did the architectural elements.

The Committee of 1926 maintains Strawberry Mansion and commissioned Dot to create the new mural for the second-floor banquet room.  Originally they had many ideas of scenes for Dot to paint, everything from Penn greeting the Indians to each of the seven park houses – so she had to request they pare down their wish list, and they complied.

The walls were prepared prior to Dot’s work – several prep steps had to be done, including a barrier coat, linen affixed to the wall, and a buff undercolor paint.

Dot and Patrick first drew black and white schematic drawings of the entire mural, which includes ships and buildings along the harbor, some of the other park houses, animals and pastoral vignettes, and the Philadelphia Water Works.  They found, however, upon looking at the schematics in the actual room, and seated at the dining table as the guests of the period would have done, that their horizon line was too high for the room. They revised the sketches to a better horizon, transferred the drawings to the wall with chalk, and started painting.

They felt a border was necessary above the mural to straighten out the uneven tops of the room’s walls. Dot showed us original sketches and color proofs for the mural border, which were them commercially printed to be attached to the walls.  The border went through several color permutations before a soft green background was chosen. Strawberry Mansion was built in 1789 but its distinctive architecture came later when Judge Joseph Hemphill bought and updated the home around 1821. Because Hemphill was of Scottish descent, Dot worked the thistle, symbol of Scotland, into the border design.

Hemphill also owned a pottery factory, so one suggestion was to depict his factory in the mural. Dot obliged and began researching, but came up with no reference photos of the structure, nor anything like it. Through word of mouth, however, a friend of the Committee produced an old book that gave Dot and Patrick enough pictorial description to portray the building as it may have looked – and when they were done they found it uncannily resembled Doylestown’s own Moravian Pottery & Tile Works.

Patrick was separately commissioned to paint a portrait of Judge Hemphill, which is framed and hangs over the mantelpiece.

Dot chose Vasari oil paints for the project, in a limited palette that she and Patrick developed, and the paint handled beautifully. Vasari generously donated the paint for the mural. A clear acrylic sealant was rolled over the mural after completion.

Dot’s presentation for us included beautiful slides of all phases of the project and many fascinating details that she learned in creating this truly outstanding work.  Dot, a heartfelt thank-you for sharing your story with us!

—Pat Achilles


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