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Historic painting gets new life

Known nationwide as one of the most historic and patriotic paintings, the oft-copied Spirit of ’76 hangs in the Selectmen’s Room in Marblehead’s Abbot Hall. Although the painting is closely guarded, the selectmen have agreed to let a local digital printmaker reproduce high-quality prints for a worthy cause. The proceeds will fund a new memorial commemorating Marblehead residents who have died fighting for freedom against terrorism.

“Historically, Marblehead has recognized those members of our community who have given their lives in our nation’s conflicts,” says Harry Christensen, chairman of the board of selectmen. “There have been a number of Marblehead natives that were killed in this struggle against terror, so we will build a memorial to put at Memorial Park. I can’t think of a more fitting [cause].”

The project came about when the town asked native ‘Header Nick Fader, co-owner of Ditto Editions in Marblehead (, to produce a digital image of the Spirit for their website. After he had captured the image, Nick and his wife Susan decided to make a print on canvas to show what was possible when historic art comes in contact with contemporary technology.

Although Marblehead receives many requests to use the image of the painting, the selectmen typically approve requests only for educational and charitable purposes. In this case, the selectmen put the two ideas together, creating a unique fundraising project.

“The selectmen feel that this project is in keeping with the gift of the Spirit of ’76 to the town,” says Christensen.

The painting, by Archibald McNeal Willard, has become a national symbol of patriotism that embodies the courage, sacrifice, and pride of fighting for freedom. In the painting, two drummers and a fife player march across a smoky battlefield with an American flag waving behind them. When Willard went to paint the faces of the three soldiers, he chose as models his own father for the middle drummer and General John Devereux’s son Henry for the young drummer boy. After the painter completed the original Spirit for a celebration at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, General Devereux purchased the painting as a gift for his hometown of Marblehead. The painting was hung in Abbot Hall in 1880 and is visited by thousands every year.

Although Willard did produce several other versions of the painting, and the image does appear in a variety of books, as well as on other products, this is the first time that the original painting has been captured by digital technology to produce high-quality, archival prints.

“We’re very ethical about staying true to the original painting,” Fader explains. “It’s as true a representation as possible.”

“The colors in the print are spectacular,” notes Christensen. “It looks like an original oil painting on canvas.”

The Faders are printing the painting in two sizes: a 15×20-inch print for $295 and an 18×24-inch print for $395 (both framed). Each size will be printed in a limited edition of 200. To purchase a copy, call 781 631 0000 or go to

“The whole idea behind the prints was the memorial,” says Christensen. “Memorial Park is a very sacred place where members of our community go to remember those people who were killed in action.”

Any profit above the cost of the monument will be put in another donation account for restoration and maintenance of the artwork in Abbot Hall.

“This is an honor to be doing this,” says Fader, “because the painting is a national treasure.”