Cleo Mullins of Richmond Conservation Studio serve 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) were threatened structurally. Of primary concern were the numerous areas where the paint and ground layers were erupting and actively flaking, as well as two areas of detached canvas. Damage and loss were most severe on the west and north walls, although cracking, cleavage, flaking, and losses occurred on all of the walls and had been ongoing for many years.
The tenting and flaking of the paint layers was 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 became 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 were so far lifted that the white edges and undersides of the ground layer were visible.
Numerous areas of retouching over large unfilled losses appear to date from an attempted restoration in the 1960s. The application of thick paint reflected an attempt to somewhat fill the depth of the losses.
The unfilled losses beneath the overpaint were obvious. Since they were first observed in 2002, the islands of original paint among the losses began to develop additional cracks, and many of them formed a convex bulge from the surface, as though they were held on only by the overpaint at their edges, leaving the area quite muddy in appearance.
Overall the paintings were unpleasantly mottled and obviously soiled. Over time, the murals, which are primarily pastel in tonality, became covered with black soot and other airborne grime.
The Murals Restoration in June 2014
After three and a half years of painstaking work, Cleo Mullins and her team of conservators successfully completed the exhaustive cleaning, varnishing, inpainting, and coating that has restored the murals to their 1921 appearance. The transformation is remarkable.
But some steps remain to safeguard the murals and to allow us to present these extraordinary works of art in the best possible manner. Refurbishing of the gallery itself to deal with crumbling plaster and peeling paint flakes, as well as the installation of dramatic lighting and protective railings that will simultaneously allow us to present interpretive labels explaining the history of the murals will provide the capstone to this amazing work of restoration.