The art collection at the Malden Library, of which the previous entries represent only a selection, exists almost entirely through the generosity of the rubber-soled shoe tycoon Elisha Slade Converse and his wife. Not only did Converse finance the library building itself, but upon his death in 1904 he left $50,000, the income only to be used specifically for the purchase of works of art. This sum was added to the $15,000 Mrs. Converse left in her will the previous year. The first purchase was made in 1892, however, which suggests that funds were set aside even while the couple was alive. Since then 48 purchases have been made, the most recent being the Bradford seascape in 1968. The majority of the works were purchased from Vose Galleries of Boston. Many were selected by Arthur Pope, the noted color theorist and professor of art at Harvard from 1906-1949.
The art gallery was originally located in the area to the right of the entrance to the library, now the local history section. On its walls hang several of the paintings that were there when the building was dedicated in 1885. Most prominent is a full-length portrait of 17 year old Frank Converse, in whose memory the library was constructed. On either side of him are his parents and the building’s donors, Elisha and Mary Converse. Also pictured is John Gardner, who donated $15,000 in 1878 for the purchase of books, thereby becoming the library’s first benefactor. All these portraits are by Albion Bicknell, a Malden painter. In 1896 an addition was made to the building which included the large art gallery which presently adjoins the original one. In 1914 further additions were completed, among them the octagonal Ryder Gallery, named for the library’s third president of the Board of Trustees.
-Text by Ross C. Anderson