Like so many other Islanders, David Stanwood recently admired the new trompe l’oeil mural on the back wall of the Whaling Church, a replica of the mural that graced the walls when the church was first built in 1843. Amid the neoclassical details that create the illusion of a light-filled room, Mr. Stanwood saw piano legs.
In the pendant hanging from the ceiling in the mural, Mr. Stanwood immediately recognized late 19th century piano legs with the same grooved details and urn shape. The legs happen to be a match for the Whaling Church’s 1893 Model C Steinway, which has rested on later-model legs since it came to the church in 1980, the same year Mr. Stanwood, a piano tuner, began taking care of the piano.
Through coincidence and Mr. Stanwood’s keen eye, the rightful legs are now on the Steinway, another touch in a period of restoration at the Edgartown church.
The Steinway had been supported by plainer, straight legs dating to the 1910s or 1920s that “were not at all what was on there originally,” Mr. Stanwood said Tuesday at the Whaling Church.
“I’ve been looking for years [for the original legs],” Mr. Stanwood said, noting that “people threw the legs out by droves.” When he saw the mural, “I knew right away that it was the same as a leg style.”
That memory triggered, Mr. Stanwood was teaching a short time later at his alma mater the North Bennet Street school in Boston, a well-regarded trade school.
There, sitting on a shelf, were two sets of the prized legs. “Legs without a piano,” Mr. Stanwood said. He got permission to take the legs, pending someone claiming ownership (which is unlikely at this point).
“I’ve been dreaming about this for 20 years now,” he said. Just after the mural was completed, “the next week I see the leg.”
“The timing was perfect,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Stanwood, who comes to work on the Steinway twice a week during summer months, was armed with tools to switch out the legs. He sat at the piano and played a quick tune (one of the benefits of being a piano tuner, he said) and then turned to focus on form rather than function.
The symmetry between the piano legs and the painting produce “an effect that is not going to be lost on the audience,” Mr. Stanwood said. The new legs have their debut this Sunday for the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society’s spring concert.
While there are plans to continue the mural restoration on the Whaling Church’s other walls, Mr. Stanwood said there isn’t much left to be done with the Steinway. A fretwork music desk, a reproduction of the original, was added a few years ago. The pedals are original, though the middle one was repaired by the iconic Edgartown welder Milton Jeffers. “There are little bits of history here and there,” Mr. Stanwood said, noting that the piano plays as well as a modern instrument. It is insured for about $50,000, he said.
So all is as it should be at the Whaling Church: mural back on the wall, original legs on the piano. Mr. Stanwood stood back to admire the effect. “You could almost push the piano into that room,” he said.