Scott A. Schweigert, curator of art and civilization at the Reading Public Museum, was gathering a dozen or so samples of American painters for an exhibit to open this weekend in a lower hallway.
The American Gallery itself is entirely taken over by a temporary exhibit.
"I don't like it when people come in and can't see what they wanted," he said.
Searching among a couple hundred paintings in storage, he picked out some old favorites, then found a painting he'd never seen before by an artist he'd never heard of.
The brass nameplate on the unsigned 14-by-16-inch oil-on-canvas identified the artist only as Geary - but no listing of American artists includes a Geary.
Although he wanted to use it, Schweigert wasn't going to hang a painting if he couldn't identify the artist.
Besides, instinct told him something was wrong - and the hunt was on.
The painting's file said only "Near Watertown, Mass." and that it was donated in 1921.
Still, Schweigert recognized the painting as a 19th century American landscape.
Its quality told him the painter was someone who knew what he was doing, who knew about light and shadow and space, who probably had been trained and had exhibited regularly.
It wasn't likely a painter that good had slipped through the cracks of history. Schweigert decided the nameplate itself must be wrong.
Misidentifications happen quite often in the industry nationwide, Schweigert said, and museums are constantly correcting themselves.
But if not Geary, then who?
It took awhile, but then he remembered: Samuel Lancaster Gerry - only one letter off - was a well-known and well-respected Boston painter who specialized in landscapes.
"There's no signature, but it matches his hallmark style," Schweigert said. "There's no question; it's absolutely Gerry."
Born in 1812, Gerry opened a Boston studio in 1840. He was an original member of the Boston Art Club, at which he exhibited for more than 40 years.
He also exhibited regularly in prestigious museums in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and organized the so-called White Mountain School that painted landscapes in New Hampshire in the same style and period as the more well-known Hudson River School in New York.
Schweigert said Gerry's landscape is going into the exhibit because it speaks to a particular moment in American art history.
The painting had been misidentified for more than 100 years and because of that may not have been exhibited in a very long time, he said.
"I don't know how many people (among the public) care that we got it right," he said.
But he certainly got a sense of satisfaction from it.
Information from: Reading Eagle, http://www.readingeagle.com/