Tapestry Finds Its Home

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Cowart Post Receives Rare Find

The Melvin Cowart American Legion Post #274 at 899 Buttonwood Drive on San Carlos Island recently acquired a rare gift and a deep mystery!

“On September 11, 2019, the Cowart Post received an email,” recalled Dan Parker, Adjutant to the Cowart Post #274. “It was from a Mr. Jason Stenger, from Montreal, Canada, who wondered if the Melvin Cowart Post #274 was the only American Legion Post in the United States with that name and number, as he did some research online and found us on Fort Myers Beach, so I got back to him and assured him we were! He stated he was a World War II memorabilia collector and he recently purchased several items from a Canadian museum that was closing its doors, and one was a tapestry with the name, ‘Melvin Cowart Post #274!’ Mr. Stenger wanted us to have it, but since he had to buy it, he suggested we might have something we could trade him in return, as he had it appraised at a value of $500 to $600.”

Dan quickly had the sense the email was genuine and not some scam. “I spent my career in law enforcement in Long Island and you get an intuition for these things, so I was pretty sure the message was real, but I had no idea what the tapestry would look like or its condition, however I felt sure it was an actual item. Once I finally saw the painted tapestry, you could tell it was no ordinary piece of memorabilia, though it is tough to find words to describe it. It is painted on what appears to be some sort of canvas, like a potato sack or burlap bag.”

Convinced the tapestry was the real thing, the Melvin Cowart Post #274 agreed to a trade with Stenger. “We sent him a World War II Japanese prayer flag that we had in our museum,” said Dan. “That seemed to satisfy both sides. Then we had to wait for over a month for the tapestry to clear United States customs!”

Once the Cowart Post members saw the tapestry for themselves, it impressed them all. “It is really something to see,” related Dan! “I have been to the Sistine Chapel in Rome, so it is most definitely not the work of Michelangelo, but you can tell that whoever painted it knew what they were doing, as it is beautiful in its own right and truly interesting. It is about 3 feet by 3 feet, and we framed it behind plexiglass and mounted it for all to see on the opposite side of our ‘Missing In Action’ table.”

The Tapestry Mystery

While the tapestry is home at the Cowart Post #274, the painter remains a mystery, as does the reason for its existence, or its journey prior to Stenger acquiring it. “We would love to speak with anybody who has any knowledge of it,” admitted Dan, “as so far we have had no luck in figuring out who painted this, so we have a mystery on our hands! We went to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, where West District Commander Matthew Herterick assisted us, but to no avail, saying that perhaps someone with the Federal government in Washington DC might be our next best option, but that could cost money, but we certainly aroused his curiosity and he wants to be kept in the loop. We took it as well to the Fort Myers Beach Art Association for their expertise, and after giving it a good look-over, they could not offer any help either, including repairing a tear in the tapestry that would require a professional restorer, though they certainly appreciated the workmanship.”

Dan strongly feels that the artist “was a GI who served in World War II, as there is something about the tapestry that screams, ‘Veteran!’ There is an inspiration to it that can only come from someone who truly understands the difficulties and casualties and problems of war.”

Perhaps it is fitting the Cowart tapestry hangs in the Cowart Post, because its namesake, Melvin Cowart, is mostly a mystery to the members who call it home! “We sadly know very little about Melvin Cowart,” Dan related, “even though he was from this area. He served and died in World War II, had a least two brothers, and still has some extended family around here. No one is even sure why the American Legion chose him for the Post’s name, so with the tapestry here, it is like a mystery inside a mystery!”

Where It Belongs

What is not a mystery about Cowart Post #274 “is we are the 8th largest American Legion Post in Florida,” Dan said proudly! “Our members include those who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iran and Iraq, and though our museum is small, it has excellent exhibits. Our Post on average contributes $50,000 to $70,000 annually to Veterans’ charities and support organizations, and we always welcome new members. Everyone is so hospitable, and this is important, because many veterans do not like to talk about what they went through, unless it is to someone else who understands. Our experiences run the gamut, from combat through everything else, and you must be careful, with things like PTSD and other emotions, so here we accentuate the positives.”

When Post members first saw the tapestry, “everybody was really impressed,” recalled Dan. “We are thrilled to have it and it feels like it is back where it belongs! If anyone would like to see it for themselves, simply come to the Cowart Post and you are welcome to take a look. We would love to know its backstory and the journey it took before it came home to us, including the name of the artist, so stop over or give us a call at 239-463-6591. We appreciate the assistance of anyone who can help us solve this mystery!”