Pilgrim Art Foundation Tracks Down a Portrait, Discovers Beacon Hill Ties

Special to the Times

A missing portrait with a Beacon Hill connection is the start of this story.

In the fall of 2019, musician Mark Junglen contacted The Lily and Earle M. Pilgrim Art Foundation located in Washington, D.C., with the image of a portrait signed by Earle Pilgrim and dated 1955.

The subject is American composer Samuel Foster Hall, a 1950s Boston University School of Music student now retired but still maintaining his office, ‘Play It Again Sam, in Colorado Springs.

Bajan American New York artist Earle Montrose Pilgrim (1923-76) had moved from Provincetown to Beacon Hill in 1954 with his wife, Lily; but very little about this period is known in the erratic artist’s life.

A brief telephone conversation with Hall on the eve of the pandemic told very little about the story that they would meet at The Sevens Ale House on Charles Street to play chess, and that Sam eventually sat for Pilgrim in his 80 West Cedar Street apartment.

Then this summer, finally, the Foundation was able to schedule a visit with Hall for a viewing of the portrait at the offices of Play It Again Sam in Colorado Springs. Stories that preceded the visit are consistent with similar stories oft reported by Boston art historian Charles Giuliano, shedding more light on Pilgrim’s erratic behavior.

At various points in their relationship Pilgrim had claimed he was Watusi and apparently at one point threw the finished painting in the gutter.

Finally, Hall’s wife was able to buy it from Pilgrim, for about $100. After this incident, Hall never saw Pilgrim again.

After his Beacon Hill years, Hall went on to live and work in New York City, San Francisco, and Colorado Springs, operating Play It Again Sam, a music business; and composing pieces that include “Concerto for Two Saxophones” and “Toward a New Horizon.” 

Residents can tune in to KCME on  October 28 and Halloween  night for  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and again on December 20 and Christmas Eve for “A Christmas Carol“ produced by Samuel Foster Hall for KCME Classical Music Radio and sponsored by The Lily and Earle M. Pilgrim Art Foundation.  Both productions will stream at 8pm MST in honor of Hall’s contributions to the musical arts and his steadfast care of Earle Pilgrim’s 1955 Portrait of Samuel Foster Hall rescued from the gutter!

The Lily And Earle M. Pilgrim Art Foundation promotes the visual art of the African diaspora, an appreciation of artists who lack public recognition, and public access to art through best practices in the preservation and placement of culturally important artworks.

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