Thanks to the efforts of the Fort Lee Historical Society and the Fort Lee Public Library Board of Trustees, a part of the borough’s history has been restored after many years of neglect.
A large painting by the late artist Paul Ortlip, a Fort Lee native, had been hanging in a small area of the Fort Lee Public Library’s meeting room, where it wasn’t really visible to the public and sustained significant damage over time.
The Historical Society and the Library Board worked to have the 1970 Ortlip painting fully restored, and now that the restoration is complete, a dedication is planned for Saturday in the library’s gallery, where the painting will hang permanently.
“The late Arthur Bruni, who was a very important member of the community, had this painting on his office wall in his realty office on Main Street after Paul Ortlip finished the painting, ‘Historic Fort Lee,’” said Meyers said of the Fort Lee Historical Society.
Sometime in the 1980s, when Bruni closed his office, he donated the painting to the library, where it was hung in the meeting room on the wall adjacent to the stage area, according to Meyers
“Unfortunately, they rolled the painting over itself to fit it into the space and nailed [and] stapled it in,” he said. “On top of that, over the years, pianos and chairs and tables were pushed up against the bare face of the painting.”
Shortly before Ortlip died, he saw the condition of the painting in the library and planned to restore it himself, even starting the process with “a few brush strokes,” according to Meyers.
“But unfortunately, he passed away shortly thereafter,” Meyers said. “I saw the continued neglect of the painting while I did some Fort Lee Film Commission programs in that space, and I brought this to the attention of the Fort Lee Historical Society and Fort Lee Historic Committee.”
The Historical Society and Historic Committee met with the Library Board and agreed to work together to fund the restoration of “Historic Fort Lee” and have it placed on permanent display on the wall above the formal gallery space in the library.
Meyers said the Rose Hill Gallery in Englewood recommended Bob Nowicki several years ago to restore another painting for the Fort Lee Historical Society, so they went with him again for restoration of the Ortlip piece.
“It is an Ortlip painting, and the Ortlips were the leading artists in Fort Lee in the 20th century,” Meyers said of the painting’s significance. “Fort Lee has a tradition of an arts community going back to the 19th century. The Ortlip family’s art works still are displayed in almost every public building in Fort Lee.”
He added, “The images in ‘Historic Fort Lee’ cover the history of the borough, and to combine this history with Paul's wonderful art is remarkable.”
Plans are also in the works to possibly turn the library meeting room walls into an Ortlip family gallery with a revolving display of the family’s work, according to Meyers.
The dedication of the newly restored “Historic Fort Lee” by the late Paul Ortlip is planned for Saturday, Nov. 24 at 12 p.m. at the gallery of the Fort Lee Public Library.