Always room for Jell-O ... Especially if it’s a painting

Jan 14, 2016

by Matt Surtel - The Daily News

LE ROY — Strawberry, raspberry, lemon and orange.


Any true fan knows those were Jell-O’s four original flavors. Yet one had long been missing from the Jello-O Gallery at 23 East Main St.


Until now, that is — the museum has added a restored commercial painting of “strawberry” to its display of classic advertising artwork.


“These were original oil paintings that were done for the company for their advertising campaign,” said Le Roy Historical Society Director Lynne Belluscio on Tuesday. “This is really the golden age of advertising.”


Back in the 1920s and earlier, advertising carried a different philosophy. Rather than using photographs — typically black-and-white images — Jell-O and other companies hired artists to create paintings, which were then used for magazine ads, package inserts and more.


The paintings combined elegance with charm, even if they were considered commercial fodder.


Le Roy was the home of Jell-O, so the artwork was hung in its local offices. Employees were allowed to take the paintings home when production was moved to Delaware and plant shut down in 1964.


The Jell-O museum has doggedly rebuilt its collection over the years, acquiring artwork now recognized for its beauty. But the original flavors were limited to raspberry, lemon and orange, until two years ago.


And then things changed.


The museum learned that the son of a former office employee was auctioning off two of the old advertising paintings. They reached out to the Rochester resident and negotiated a purchase.


As typical of the era, the theme is eons beyond modern commercial pitches. It features a strawberry Jello dessert at a fancy place setting, with a silver pitcher and glass dish overflowing with strawberries.


But the painting had deteriorated over the decades.


“It had to be taken of its stretcher, Belluscio said. “There was a hole in it ... There was some paint that had to come off it. The varnish had to be removed, and it was re-varnished. It was not very pretty.”


The painting was carefully restored by West Lake Conservators of Skaneateles, through grant funding. It was recently hung besides its the other three original flavors.


It’s believed the painting’s by Angus MacDonall, popular artist and illustrator of the era.


“It’s the story of advertising,” Belluscio said. “That they were able to propel a product that nobody knew what it was through advertising, so it becomes a household, generic name that they tried to protect.”