Fresco With TV History Donated To Athens County

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A clue to the origins of a painting recently donated to the Athens County Commissioners can be seen in the downtown Athens street scene it depicts. Rather than traditional painted lines, a crosswalk shown in the picture is composed of the numbers “45701.”

Besides being the ZIP code of Athens, 45701 also was the name of soap opera produced by Athens-area residents for cable access television in the early 1980s. The painting — actually a fresco — was part of a special project that reunited the cast in 1989 for an additional two-hour episode.

For the past 25 years the fresco, which depicts the Athens County Courthouse, was stored in the attic of Lamborn’s Studio & Custom Framing, owned by Fred and Christine Tom. Christine and local resident James Murray were co-creators of the soap opera back in the ‘80s.

When Lamborn’s relocated earlier this year, Murray called Commissioner Lenny Eliason and donated the fresco to the county. The painting is currently in storage at the Courthouse annex.

“It’s got some history to it, so you sure don’t want to not preserve it and (not) put it out somewhere,” said Commissioner Charlie Adkins. There is concern, however, about the fresco’s condition because there appears to be some chalking of the surface.

Common Pleas Judge L. Alan Goldsberry has made some initial contact with the Ohio University School of Art seeking guidance for having the fresco preserved.

“I think it’s a nice painting. It’s very colorful,” Goldsberry said. “It does depict the history of that intersection at one time.”

The painting shows the intersection of Court and Washington Streets, with the Courthouse in the background.

Adkins said one idea is to display the fresco in the lobby of the Courthouse Annex (Cline Building).

“We haven’t made any final decision,” Adkins said. “We don’t want to put it out if it’s going to continue to deteriorate.”

Besides showing downtown Athens, the fresco also includes characters from 45701 — including Murray as character Alan Starr (described as “a flashy talent scout living well beyond his means”) and Christine Tom as Connee (“a simple, trusting, down-to-earth cocktail waitress”).

Murray explained that in the late 1980s he and Marilyn Bradshaw, OU art historian, conceived of Fabricating Realities: A Video/Fresco Project that reunited the cast of 45701 for a special two-hour episode that incorporate the creation of frescoes. A grant for the project was obtained from the Ohio Arts Council.

Combining frescoes and a soap opera might seem odd, but in the 15th century frescoes were a way of conveying information to a largely illiterate society, Murray said. As for 45701, the soap opera also communicated information, dealing with social issues and promoting such things as recycling and neighborhood watch, according to Murray.

A month-long exhibit was held in 1989 at OU’s Trisolini Gallery as part of Fabricating Realities.

Three frescoes — including the one now in possession of the county — were created during the project.

Murray said the county’s fresco is based on a pencil drawing by artist Barbara Bays. The actual painting of the frescos for the project was done by Joe Becherer, Michael Shuter, Neil Whealey and Sandra Russell, who is still a local artist.