Local artist makes Mark Twain Shrine the loveliest that ever was

The Mark Twain Shrine and Museum in Florida, Mo. has been undergoing some changes that might have some people seeing double. A few of the museum’s newest displays are modeled after Mark Twain’s Hartford, Connecticut home and were recreated by local artist, Pat Reading.

Endearingly nicknamed “The Loveliest Home that Ever Was,” Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain’s birth name, and his wife designed the Hartford home to be an art piece in itself. The home was designed by Edward Tuckerman Porter and built in the American High Gothic Style. The inside was done in rich colors and reflective paints, the middle eastern style reflecting Clemens’ travels to Europe.

Reading worked earlier this summer for several weeks to complete two niches and replicate the hand-painted stenciling at the Connecticut home. The first niche completed was representative of the home’s upper hallway and was painted in green, with reflective gold stenciling. The second niche, the home’s entry hall, has intricate silver stenciling covering the lower half of the wall with a black trim border. The niches are filled with furniture received from Clemens’ daughter, including a victorian settee upholstered with an oriental rug.

“The light back in the 1800s was gas lit and the lights flickered. If you went into the rooms back then, the paint had to of just sparkled,” said Reading.

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The niche replicating the upper hallway painted in green and gold.

According to Connecticut home’s website, Clemens would later call his years at the Hartford home the happiest and most productive years of his life. He once wrote, “To us, our house…had a heart, had a soul, and eyes to see us with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benediction.”

Reading is a self-employed artist and owner of Red Barn Signs and Art. Her work was noticed by the museum and it was she who was asked to help complete the project. As soon as the project plans were finalized, she tediously went to work figuring out how to create the stencils needed to undertake this project.

“I thought I was going to send my designs to a person on Etsy that cut stencils,” explained Reading. “But since it got approved quickly, I cut the design on vinyl and would reverse weed it and weed out what I wanted to paint. I would have to keep going and cutting out panels.” She then painted each of the niche’s with a roller, gradually building up the paint to the correct sheen, and then pull off the vinyl and touch up the design by hand.

When asked about her favorite part of the project, she spoke of the history behind the original stenciling.

“The neat thing about the woman that stenciled this home is that she was the co-founder of the Associated Artists back around 1871,” said Reading. The woman’s name was Candace Wheeler and is often referred to as the mother of interior design.

Reading spoke that she thought it was very special that she, a woman, had the opportunity to recreate Wheeler’s work because Wheeler dedicated her life to helping women find their talents and become financially independent during a time that doing such was nearly impossible.

Other renovations are possibly in the museum’s future. “They are trying to build the museum back up and I think we take it for granted a little too much.” Park hours from April through October are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and tours are offered during these times. Take some time this summer to visit the shrine. This might be your loveliest trip yet.

*All photos contributed by Pat Reading.

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