Here you see this is fire damage that has caused color shifts and blistering in the paint. This area was completely lost, there was no image, just scorched plaster. So what we did after we removed the non-original paint that covered the mural, we stabilized the flaking paint, and then we started to discuss the aesthetics of this. This is going to be removed from its present location—this building is being demolished—and is going to be reinstalled in the new hospital building. There was a concern about the presentation of it in its new environment. And working with the Art Commission and the hospital, there was a consensus that we wanted to do something to make it read as a mural, so it just didn't look like a damaged artifact.
Our approach has been to do a minimal amount of work to make the figures read, but not to disguise the damage completely.
In this one you can see some of the distortion in the paint layer, and those are areas where the plaster behind has reacted to water damage. The lighter area is original paint, the darker area is non-original paint. There's been a significant amount of overpainting on these over the years.
Our primary focus is to stabilize what's here, consolidate it, and prepare it so we can safely remove it and store it and then reinstall it. We do have aesthetic concerns, but the stability of it is our primary focus right now.
When we first started this project this mural was entirely covered with wallboard—and you see a fragment of it down here—it was obscured. And on top of it, it had several layers of house paint. It had been badly damaged; electrical conduit channels had been cut, and it had been fire damaged at some point, so it had been covered over. We didn't know what the condition was underneath; we assumed it was pretty bad and not a lot of image remains. What we did was we removed the wallboard and then we mechanically removed several layers of this house paint that completely covered the painting.
Where there are color shifts and irreversible damage we're not going to paint over that and make it look as the original. What we have been doing is, areas that there was complete paint loss down to the plaster, if it was in an area, a small size and in an area where we didn't have to recreate a figure or lines or something and just put color in, we've done that. A good example of this, this woman's face, there was a large section missing, and it was very disturbing to look at. You could see the woman, but it didn't read as a woman because most of her face was gone. So our approach was to put in the colors that were there, but not to try to redraw the figure.
It's not our intention to make this look perfect or to make it look like it did originally, but just to do the minimal amount of work so it reads as an image, but we don't lessen its integrity by making it 90 percent new. This has had a very interesting history, and we're not trying to disguise that at all.