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In search of a long-lost work of art in Patchogue Village

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There’s no cold-case file as thick as a phonebook.

Somehow, evidence of the ornamental frieze that once sat perched in the pediment above Patchogue’s historic Carnegie Library is quite scant.

But there’s enough to know that the flat sculpture did indeed exist.

And Patchogue-Medford librarians are asking for the public’s help in recovering it — or at least a detailed photo of the frieze so it can be recreated. This way, the pediment doesn’t stand empty after Carnegie Library’s highly anticipated grand re-opening, which is expected sometime in the spring.

Click here for updates and photos of the ongoing construction.

To aid in the search for the frieze, there does exist an old postcard that shows a sculpture within the triangular peak of the entranceway, but it’s hard to make it out. (See below.)

And take this description from the Patchogue Advance in 1908:

“This charming piece of sculpture by Mr. Thom Harley, of New York, has been composed in the conventional rather than the more commonplace natural manner and shows a seated child holding before him the Book of Learning. 

“On either side, horns of plenty overflow with their prolific gifts as the result of that knowledge which fills them and makes their bounty possible. Contrasting with the main lines of the composition which follow that of the pediment of itself, is a conventionalized flowing hand.”

Now, go check your attics.

Tycoon Andrew Carnegie funded the $10,000 building as a gift to Patchogue Village, according to a New York Times article from 1905. It opened in 1908. Now, after several recent years sitting dormant, it’s in the process of being renovated next to the district court on West Main Street. 

Just what happened to the frieze, and when it was last seen, is a mystery.

“It’s kind of like nobody paid attention,” said librarian Laura Accardi. “It just sort of drifted away.”

The last photograph of the frieze in the library’s possession dates to 1958, when an expansion was added onto the building. That proves the artwork was there at that time, but it’s impossible to make it out.

“Pictures are so common,” said fellow librarian Michael Buono. “There’s got to be a better picture of it out there somewhere.”

As for whether the frieze still physically exists, Buono said that could depend on what it was made from.

“If it was made out of marble or granite it would crack but not shatter,” he said. “But if it was made out of plaster, it could be dust.

“Someone could have a piece of it in their house and not even know it.”

Greater Patchogue Historical Society treasurer Steve Lucas says he remembers going to the library building twice after moving to Patchogue in 1971.

But he doesn’t think he ever went into the main, original entrance.

“I only remember going to that newer section, the part that was added in 1958,” he said. “I don’t ever remember going up the stairs to the older section, for whatever reason.

“The question is, why was it removed, or chiseled off, or covered over? And why would they do that?”

The librarians have had no luck tracking down any of the sculptor’s descendants, and are in the process of finding out what contractors assisted in revamping the building for use by Briarcliffe College in 1980.

Perhaps then, they might narrow down the location of that attic.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the library or call (631) 654-4700.

mike@greaterpatchogue.com

Top photo: The Carnegie Library was 50 years old at the time of the public approval its expansion in 1957-58. (Patchogue-Medford Library) See more photos pertaining to the library’s history here.

his is Patchogue's Carnegie Library as it would have appeared on March 4, 1908. (Patchogue-Medford Library courtesy photo)

This is Patchogue’s Carnegie Library as it would have appeared on March 4, 1908. (Patchogue-Medford Library)

The Carnegie Library building as it appeared Tuesday. (Michael White)

The Carnegie Library building as it appeared Tuesday. (Michael White)

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com