Federal Judge Demands WPA Murals Permanently Painted Out – Murals Uncovered, Cleaned and Restored in Cedar Rapids, Iowa- Mural Restoration, Art Conservation

(Mural restoration video short summary for entire 4 year art conservation project at end of this page)

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) – By Brittany Borghi, CBS Reporter: Re-imagining the past can start with just a few small brush strokes, but end with a giant piece of history. That is what is happening in the City Council chambers at City Hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as art conservator Scott Haskins and his two assistants work for three weeks to peel back layers of overpaint decades deep from the surface of the second of four historic murals in the room. Here’s the coverage by the media:

The mural, entitled “Inherited Culture” was painted by Harry Donald Jones in 1936 as part of the WPA Depression Era government stimulated art movement. It depicts men discovering artifacts from ancient Mayan civilizations, learning the modern techniques of agriculture and watching the progress of industry. Its rediscovery after having been painted out is a thrill. Here’s a short video on the cleaning process:

Just as Haskins and his assistants build upon a work of genius by touching up damage on the original canvas lined wall with extra paint, they also have to make up for the mistakes made in the mural’s 76-year lifespan. He points out where the workers who painted out the mural sanded the surface of the mural and did other damage. Haskins also had circled sections of the mural in chalk; they show the parts of the canvas that have pulled away from one of the many layers of the wall. To fix them, Haskins injects the wall with an adhesive to make sure everything gets reattached. Here’s a short video to show the retouching and finished project:

Assistant City Manager Sandi Fowler hopes people will notice and enjoy the historical art and features of the new City Hall. “It’s free and open to anyone that wants to come look at it, whether you’re attending a meeting or you just want to come see it. That’s a pretty neat way to incorporate art into everyday life,” Fowler said. If, for no other reason, to remember the past. “I mean, this is City Hall. This is the center of government in Cedar Rapids, and I think it’s highly appropriate that there be a “time capsule” from the past that shows people where the city has come from,” Haskins said.

The 48-foot long mural is the second of four that the city plans to uncover in the room. Fowler is hoping to uncover a third in the fall of this year, but the city needs to get more grants and funding first. Each mural costs about $125,000 to restore. A fund has been set up at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation for interested parties to make donations.


Sandi Fowler, Assistant City manager did her magic and put together the funds to have the painted out mural on the third wall uncovered, cleaned and restored. And we are pleased that Fine Art Conservation Laboratories was chosen AGAIN to do the work. Wall #2 (described above) was such a great experience for everyone, why not do it again?!?!

But the East wall came with a twisted reputation and a story… it may be because of this wall that all the murals were painted out in the early 1960s. We’ll, let me re-phrase that; It was probably because of an attitudinal artist, Everett Jeffrey, who painted the East wall and left subliminal messages that were not that subtile, that the mural underwent heavy public criticism and the badgered federal judge was obliged to take action.

Here’s the video of the cleaning and the discussion of the objectionable subject matter…

Great story, don’t you think? And its a valuable instructional video if you have a mural restoration project you are considering.  If you found this video interesting please leave a comment and a THUMBS up!

October 2015 -- Final Mural Overpaint Removal and Restoration

Project Completion

Removing 6 layers of paint from the WPA 1937 murals

Removing 6 layers of paint from the WPA 1937 murals

October 13, 2015

CEDAR RAPIDS — Depression-era art (the murals are dated 1937) that public officials twice decided was not worth seeing is now in full view at City Hall. See the final wrap up video at the end of this article. Even though the 4 sections of the mural were intended to depict a personal message to the community as a statement by the artists about “Law and Culture” in Iowa, the murals have been through a controversial and difficult existence.

Scott Haskins, Chief Art Conservator and President of Fine Arts Conservation Laboratories of Santa Barbara, Calif (click here to see short video or lab tour) the company working to restore the mural, said Tuesday that “city officials will like this last section of the restoration best because it shows City Hall providing services to the community in tough times: Bread lines for the hungry, job placement for the unemployed, construction projects underway (like the one across the street from City Hall today) and police officers and firefighters providing public services.”

The surround-room mural was painted by 5 artists who were part of Grant Wood’s Stone City Art Colony but who did not see eye-to-eye Wood’s romantic sense of Iowa as they painted under a WPA contract in 1937. In fact, IN THE contract was stipulated that Grant Wood would NOT be part of the project! This, of course, resulted in “bad blood, given the controlling personality of the “The Master.”

Mural Restoration scaffolding in City Council chambers showing removal process of overpaint from 1937 murals.

Mural Restoration scaffolding in City Council chambers showing removal process of overpaint from 1937 murals.

In what was a federal courtroom but is now the City Council chambers, the mural covers the top section of walls. Twice since the mural was painted in 1937, federal court officials decided to hide it beneath a coat of paint because of the content of some of the images, and then because the art was not thought to have much value. Eventually, over the years, 6 coats of paint were applied over the murals.

The feds undertook the restoration of the North wall behind the City Council’s seating, when it gave over the former courthouse building in 2011 to the City. The removal of the paint from off the murals and their restoration has been undertaken by the City, as agreed upon with the federal government, over a four-year period and  will be complete on the last of the walls at the end of this week.

It is widely believed that a section on the east wall, which included the depiction of a hanging directly across from the then-courtroom’s jury box, helped prompt the mural to be painted over in 1951. But that wall, on the other end of the mural, also contained a section featuring an image of a physician consulting with a naked patient surrounded by the newspaper headlines “Sweden Defeats Syphilis” and “Play Ball.”

Haskins said it was likely that the suggestion of “unbridled sex” helped “fuel the fire” of objections about the art that had started with the hanging scene. That led to the entire mural being painted over the first time. In the early 1960s, the art was uncovered to loud public protests, briefly examined and then covered over again because of public pressure on the federal judge.

During the mural conservation work last April, Haskins and his staff discovered that the offending newspaper headlines had been stripped off the wall completely at some point before the mural was covered up. He and city officials decided to recreate the headlines, but without the original color so people would know they had been restored. Haskins said it is not unusual for the taste in art to change and for those who come later to paint over it.

Everyone seems to have a different opinion as to their favorite, or the “best” mural in the room. Haskins feels that the west wall of public services will be the favorite but he is partial to the south wall with the artists and archaeologists. Cedar Rapids artist Mel Andringa said the best art of the mural is on the north wall, which depicts Native Americans, the work of possible slaves and laborers,  military forts, the family farm and the arrival of industry. Still others are intrigued by the narrative of the east wall depicting wild-west-justice giving way to law and order and a panel of witchcraft-superstition giving way to modern medicine. One thing is for certain, Assistant City Manager, Sandi Fowler thinks that those attending city council meetings will have more to stimulate them now.

Seth Gunnerson, a planner with the Community Development Department, said the restoration has cost about $500,000. Private donations and federal, state and city funds have paid for the project. Here is the project review video of the entire room…

Questions? Call Mural Conservation Expert Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438 office, 805 570 4140 mobile, faclartdoc@gmail.com More info below…

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

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

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

Graffiti removal from murals: http://www.savefreewaymurals.com

Inpainting damage on WPA mural in City Hall Cedar Rapids

Inpainting damage on WPA mural in City Hall Cedar Rapids





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