Residents are scrambling to find a home for a painting of Long Island hanging in a soon-to-be shuttered store in Hicksville.
When news broke that the Sears on Route 106/107 will close its doors in April, some began to wonder about the fate of the massive rendering of Long Island hanging on one of the store’s walls.
The oil painting depicts a historical map of Long Island surrounded by the portraits of some of its most famous residents, such as Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt. It has hung in a stairwell since at least the 1960s, residents say.
The mural was painted by G. Hunter Jones, an artist who was commissioned to create dozens of paintings in Sears stores across the country that captured some aspect of each one’s local history.
A mural he created for a Sears in Bridgeport, Connecticut, pays homage to showman P.T. Barnum, who lived there for a time, and one in Watchung, New Jersey, depicts a meeting between early settlers and Native Americans in the town.
The Watchung mural was spared from demolition last year after a historical committee launched a GoFundMe campaign to restore and remove the mural from a concrete wall, according to local news reports. It was estimated that $40,000 was needed to save the painting.
Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust that owns the Watchung site, pledged $5,000 toward that preservation effort, New Jersey’s Courier News reported in August.
Seritage also owns the 26-acre site where the Hicksville Sears is located. A spokesman said the company is looking into how the mural may be safely moved.
“We appreciate the historical significance of the mural and what it means to the community,” a company spokesman said.
The Hicksville Historical Society is hoping to follow in New Jersey’s footsteps. The society’s president, Derek Stadler, said members would like to acquire the mural or at least preserve it. But the size of the map, which Stadler estimates is at least 20 feet wide and 15 feet tall, makes finding a place that can accommodate it a little difficult, he said.
Denice Evans-Sheppard, executive director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society, said it also hopes to find an organization with enough space to accommodate the painting.
“We’re gonna put our feelers out there,” Evans-Sheppard said. “It would be nice to salvage it.”
As more department stores close nationwide, Jones’ son, Stephen Jones, said he’s begun to worry about the loss of his father’s work. The prolific Manhattan-based artist spent about 20 years traveling the country to humanize the sprawling department stores with his oil paintings and died in the 1990s, his son said.
“I think it’s a worthy painting, and I do hope something good is made of it,” said Stephen Jones, 65, of Manhattan. “Once something is gone, it can’t come back.”
Lori Pellnitz, 55, who’s originally from Bethpage but now lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said she heard about the store’s closing through friends on Facebook. She remembers admiring the painting while shopping at the Sears as a child and thinks it should be preserved as a “piece of Long Island’s history.”
“It’s something we really do need to try and save,” Pellnitz said. “This is something we can still do something about.”