Cleo Mullins of Richmond Conservation Studio serves as chief conservator on the project. Mullins graduated from Cooperstown Graduate Programs, State University of New York at Oneonta, Program of the Conservation of Historical and Artistic Works in 1974. She holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in addition to her masters from Cooperstown. She served as Intern/Fellow in the conservation laboratory of the National Museum of American Art (then the National Collection of Fine Arts) at the Smithsonian in 1973–1974.
State of the Murals (As of 2010)
Hoffbauer's murals (oil painting on canvas, glued to plaster walls) are threatened structurally. Of primary concern are the numerous areas where the paint and ground layers are erupting and actively flaking, as well as two areas of detached canvas. Damage and loss are most severe on the west and north walls, although cracking, cleavage, flaking, and losses are found on all of the walls and have been ongoing for many years.
The tenting and flaking of the paint layers is localized, but severe. It is evident that water damage occurred to the plaster walls, most probably prior to 1937 when Charles Hoffbauer returned to provide restoration efforts for the Murals. It was this water damage that apparently began this delamination of paint and ground from the underlying linen. Many of the older areas of cracking and lifting are filled with grime and washed back dirty varnish from a prior cleaning in the 1960s.
In a 2010 examination, newer areas of active flaking were discovered on all of the mural panels. In some of these areas, such as on the flanks of the horse nearest to the Robert E. Lee figure in the Summer mural, the flakes are so far lifted that the white edges and undersides of the ground layer are visible.
Numerous areas of retouching over large unfilled losses appear to date from an attempted restoration of the 1960s. The thick paint appears to have been stippled on in an attempt to somewhat fill the depth of the losses.
The unfilled losses beneath the overpaint are obvious. Since they were first observed in 2002, the islands of original paint among the losses have begun to develop additional cracks, and many of them have a convex bulge from the surface, as though they are held on only by the overpaint at their edges. Also, the area is now quite muddy in appearance.
We may be rapidly reaching the time in which this added paint layer may not be safely removed from the surface of the original paint.
Overall the paintings are unpleasantly mottled and obviously soiled. With time, the murals, which are primarily pastel in tonality, have become covered with black soot and other airborne grime.
The murals are running out of time. It is imperative that a comprehensive conservation program begin now, while treatments and methods can still be effectively employed. We hope you will agree and that you will help us restore this American treasure.