Mural Art Conservation of The Living New Deal Murals at a Public Library in the Los Angeles Area

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A very cute vintage mural entitled, “Scenes From English Literature” which has overseen the Children’s Reading Room of the Long Beach Public Library for decades has been considered by experts to be in need of expert mural restoration services.

The mural was painted in 1937 by Suzanne Miller under the auspices of the Work Project Administration Federal Art Project (Federal Art Project – FAP, Works Progress Administration -WPA) and depicts 15 scenes from English Literature: Hiawatha by Longfellow (panel 1), The Fairie Queene by Spencer (panel 2), Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (panel 3), L’allego & Il Penseroso by Milton, The Vicar of Wakefield by Goldsmith, and Rip Van Winkle by Irvins (panel 4), The King James Bible (panel 5), Alice in Wonderland by Carroll, Man With the Hoe by Markham, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Gray and The Compleat Angler by Walton (panel 6), The Lady of Shalot by Tennyson (panel 7), The Tempest by Shakespeare (panel 8), The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer (panel 9).

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The artist’s signature and inscription

In 1937, the 9 panels of the mural were painted in oil on canvas and then glued to the wall of the library. After a devastating fire in 1972, the 9 mural sections were pulled off the walls, repainted and glued to plywood… not good for long term preservation. After their restoration, the plywood sections were bolted to the walls of the Children’s Reading room at the public library located at 101 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90882

As a result of the 1972 restoration, over the recent years the low quality varnish has yellowed badly changing all the colors… and water leaked onto the murals further damaging them.

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Water stains, vast areas of fogged or bloomed varnish and crystallization of varnish resin.

One of the 9 sections of mural was badly wrinkled from the previous restoration.

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Before and after relaxing and removal of wrinkles in mural section

The Mural Conservation Treatment Performed

So, present day, the City of Long Beach wanted to recuperate the original appearance of the murals and ensure their long term preservation. Fine Art Conservation Laboratories, a professional mural art conservation firm that had a long history of successful city, state and federal government mural restoration projects was contracted.

The cleaning process involved the safe varnish removal without removing the previous restorations. The original colors and details that were obscured were returned closer to their intended values, including better contrast and depth of field in the composition.

The badly wrinkled section was relaxed by warming and then reinforced for future stability.

Stable conservation grade varnish was brush applied to bring out the best appearance of the artwork.

In painting or retouching is never done with oil paint. Conservation grade paint, which always remains removable and color stable, were used to correct or blend some of the previous restorations. New varnish provides for better surface protection against accidents and vandalism.

Here is a short video of the mural’s conservation treatments:

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Click on the picture or HERE to watch the video

They are now waiting for installation

into the new public library facilities for the

City of Long Beach, CA.

Questions: Scott M. Haskins, Virginia Panizzon, Oriana Montemurro

Art Conservators 805 564 3438 faclartdoc@gmail.com

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