The Laing Collection: A Golden Age in Portland Art

By Robin Neely, MHS Volunteer & Stained Glass Conservator/Consultant

2002408070Ten years ago when the contents of the 90-year-old Portland business, A. M. Laing and Sons Gilders and Picture Framers, came up for auction, Maine historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. called it “one of the last links to a really golden age in Portland art.”

Fortunately this link to Portland’s art past has been donated by the Laing family. Laing and Sons’s tool boxes filled with chisels, knifes and hammers, gilding tools, metallic powders, pages of gold leaf, paint brushes and palettes, along with decades of account books, trade catalogs, and artist files are now in the collection of MHS thanks to the generosity of Donald E. Laing, A. M. Laing’s great-grandson.

The tools and papers tell the story of Scottish immigrant Adam Laing, who worked in a London picture framing and gilding business for 20 years before coming to the US. Laing made the move in 1883, first living in St. Louis, then returning to London, and then back to New York before taking a job in Portland with Algernon Stubbs in Stubbs’s framing and art supply business.

2002408223Portland suited Laing; in 1886 he traveled to London to gather his wife and two small children and return with them to his new Portland home. Laing left his job with Stubbs in 1889 and the following year opened his own picture framing business in the rear of 518 ½ Congress Street. For sixteen years Laing operated out of the Congress Street location until 1906 when he moved his shop to 134 Spring Street where it was operated by his son Frank, and then his grandson, Francis, until closing in 1985.

Over the years A. M. Laing and Sons framed artworks for some of Portland’s most prominent artists including Harrison Brown, Charles F. Kimball, Alexander Bower, Mary K. Longfellow, and members of the Brush’uns, a group of Sunday amateur painters that included architect John Calvin Stevens.

Photographs and details of the tool collection can be seen in MHS’s PastPerfect online database here. To see a full list of archival material related to the family, visit the Laing Collection search page on Minerva.

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