Art Restoration of WPA Mural of Old West on Historic Register

See short video at end of article…

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Its like an old movie, walking along the WPA mural 4′ high and 200′ feet long that shows the settling of the Old West in the middle of nowhere in Butch Cassidy’s and the Sundance Kid’s country in South Central Utah surrounded by dinosaur bones and table top landscape.

Renown artist, Lynn Faucett, a native of Price, Utah was just the right person in 1938 to pull together the history of his country. He composed this historical review of the area for the mural based on photos, entries in archives and his own personal experiences. And, during the Depression, the new Works Projects Administration funded municipal building was the perfect place for his talents and vision for the mural.

Faucett’s depiction of the pioneer settlers, the beginnings of society in the newly constructed town and the development of the area and its industries are very competently done. There are dozens of wonderful smaller pictures within the composition of the mural. Today, we look back at the Old West’s history thinking that it was romantic and full of folklore, novels, movies etc. But back then, Faucett had lived this life, been in these buildings and knew these people. This mural is an authentic historical record of actual people (whose names are written below their portraits), buildings, customs and the process of taming the Wild West.

WPA Mural Settling the West

I’ve known Lynn Faucett’s painting style over the last 35 years of my painting conservation career having worked on the restoration of his paintings previously and looked at many others… and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t previously impressed with his painting style compared to the other Utah Impressionists that came before him.

But the original execution of this mural could have been the masterpiece of his early career. The faces were very well done and reflected feeling and expressions that were quite realistic… but then something happened…

About 20 years after the mural was painted, Faucett was employeed to “touch up” the murals and, as is almost always the case, the artist cannot respect the originality of the earlier work, doesn’t see the qualities of earlier work and has to change or update it. Such is the case on this mural when in the early 1960’s Faucett repainted much of the composition including most of the faces. The result was a change in style and, in my opinion, a reduction in painterly quality.

The result of Faucett’s repainting in oil, today, is a blotchy discoloration of the retouchings as they have aged at a different rate than the original mural. This is especially noticeable in the sky. Touch up of the seams of the canvas glued to the wall are discolored as are many other details.

It is presumed also that he varnished the murals, and likely didn’t clean them first. So, a gray layer is trapped. Then add to that the following 40+ years of grime deposited on the surface and that brings us to today’s appearance: considerably muted, flattened depth of field and contrast in the composition and an overall grayish appearance.

FACL, Inc is honored to have been called and entrusted with the health and art conservation of this historical mural, so important to the City of Price and to the area (see short video at end of article). This mural was considered so well done and so historical that it was a main reason why the entire WPA funded building was added to the US Register of Historic Properties, a considerable honor.

Without risk, we removed the last 40+ years of grime which brightened the painting considerably. However, we were hesitant to remove the 1960’s varnish as, according to preliminary tests, it would be hard to remove without damage to the original paint and would result in disturbing the retouchings that Faucett put on the mural in the 60’s thereby opening the proverbial “can of worms” during the cleaning and causing a real mess, even seriously damaging the mural.

In the past years, there has also occurred water damage infiltrations that have stained the front of the painting in several areas. So, these areas were cleaned. Then whatever was left of the stains and all of the blotchyness of Faucett’s retouchings were glazed and toned to blend in better and not be noticeable. We never do retouching in oils for the very reason now noticeable from Faucett’s 1960’s work. All of our materials are conservation grade, chemically stable, reversible materials that will be easily removable without damage to the original painting far into the future.

Our varnishes are also conservation grade and have gone through extensive testing to determine their reversibility and removability, color fastness and compatibility with the work of art. They will not yellow and will always be easy to remove.

In the end, we have stabilized the deterioration of the painting, returned it to it’s best appearance and protected it for many generations into the future… which should help make some more history. I love my job. It feels like my work is socially conscious!

Please leave a comment and give this article a THUMBS UP! Thanks!

If you would like to know more about our background in mural restoration:

See our mural conservation videos on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLE1FF71CC598A8E79

For general mural conservation capabilities videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ld4l6EG8T-I&index=13&list=PLE1FF71CC598A8E79

For our written mural capability statement:  https://www.fineartconservationlab.com/mural/

For our written mural consultation statement:  https://www.fineartconservationlab.com/consultations/

Scott M. Haskins   805 570 4140   faclartdoc@gmail.com

About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at https://www.fineartconservationlab.com/testimonials/
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