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

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  23. Pingback: Painted Out New Deal WPA Murals- Can they be restored? | Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)

  24. Pingback: WPA Murals Painted Out | Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)

  25. Pingback: People ask me, "Do I still do the painting restoration work?" | Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)

  26. Susie Arp says:

    Hello, my name is Susie. I live in Quincy, Illinois. I live in my home which was built by my grandfather in 1926. There was a mural painted above the fireplace. I do not know when it was painted over. I would love to try to restore it back to the mural! Is there a test I could do to see if the mural is still there? Can you please give me some instructions? If the mural is there can you give me instructions so the entire mural can be restored? Or do you ever come to Quincy?

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hi Susie, Thanks for leaving your comments/questions. I think the best thing to do it talk on the phone. Can you call me on my mobile? 805 570 4140. I’m in El Paso, Texas working on a mural so I’m on Mountain Time. Talk to you soon! Scott

  27. Steven Sherman says:

    Is this known as Depression Era art? What is the style?

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for leaving your question Steve. Yes, some have called it “Depression Era Art” but the more common names are Regionalism or Modernism. Another name that has also been used is “WPA Art”. It was the accepted style of art for the European Socialist movements in Europe and Russia in the 30s and 40s too but I’m not sure what they called it.

  28. Jamie Clark says:

    Scott, the City was so sure that this last wall would go as effortlessly as the other projects you worked on… so we had NO resistance to get it approved and done. Great job… as expected.

  29. pedroco says:

    We were so successful on the previous wall (the East Wall) that the rest of the money needed to do the West Wall mural came in right away and has allowed the City to quickly arrange to finish the room. Thanks to Scott Haskins’ work, documentation and information he has provided from the previous conservation work, the fundraising was a snap!!

  30. Hester Rogelio says:

    We were so successful on the previous wall (the East Wall) that the rest of the money needed to do the West Wall mural came in right away and has allowed the City to quickly arrange to finish the room. Thanks to Scott Haskins’ work, documentation and information he has provided from the previous conservation work, the fundraising was a snap!!

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hester, we were very pleased to be working with an efficient City Manager’s office who was “on it.” The money came from lots of sources including state and federal grants, local corporate contributions, private donations… but minimal funding came from city coffers. Once the murals, their story and historical importance began to appear from behind the 6 layers of overpaint, lots of people were very enthusiastic about the major change that was taking place in the City Council Chambers from the rediscovery of these visually interesting and beautiful WPA murals.

  31. Derik Kane says:

    Scott, you and your team have been a breath of fresh air… professionals that can communicate easily and do the highest quality work… Amazing!!!

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      The Assist. City Manager told me about the nightmare working with another contractor and so when we came on site, at first, there was kind of a “snake bit” attitude. Your city personnel were so great, however, that the project went very smoothly. Grace, in particular, in maintenance was a real asset. Thanks to everyone.

  32. Jack Williams says:

    We in the City Council are so very grateful for your professional manner and excellent quality work. We are honored to work with you.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thank you Jack for you very nice comment. Our work was greatly facilitated by the proactive cooperative attitudes by everyone we met in City Hall. You guys run a class organization.

  33. henry says:

    I took some family members over to see the newly “rediscovered” murals and had a wonderful visit yesterday. We were amazed and enthralled by the wonderful historical images, bright colors and the time capsule effect the murals add to the City Council Chambers. Your mural restoration work has been inspiring! Thank you!!

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thank you Henry for your interest in the project. I’ve been surprised at the good number of people who have made a special trip to the City Council chambers specifically to see the murals. Of course, the media coverage has helped. Thanks for your nice comments.

  34. enriquez says:

    I took some family members over to see the newly “rediscovered” murals and had a wonderful visit yesterday. We were amazed and enthralled by the wonderful historical images, bright colors and the time capsule effect the murals add to the City Council Chambers. Your mural restoration work has been inspiring! Thank you!!

  35. john says:

    Is this the biggest WPA mural painting you’ve seen?

  36. LindaR says:

    Congratulations on another great project completed in 1st class fashion!

  37. RobertL says:

    Very cool murals. They remind be of the Savings and Loan buildings with the Art Deco mosaics on the front of them.

  38. baylor says:

    This is a really terrific project. We heard about it on the news while visiting relatives in Cedar Rapids and went over to City Hall to see the murals. Scott gave us “a tour” and was very accommodating. Wonderful historical project and a credit to The City for doing this work. Cudoes to Scott Haskins for the great art restoration work.

  39. Pingback: Controversial Mural’s Overpaint Removal and 5 Year Restoration Completed | faclincblog

  40. Al says:

    Congrats on another job well done!!

  41. Tanny says:

    Now we need to find the rest of the money needed to do the other two murals and finish the room. With this mural now complete, I’m hoping it will be easier to finish the fundraising.

  42. Claire says:

    Scott U are Amazing !!!

  43. Des says:

    This has been a long time coming and we in the City Council are so very grateful for your fine work. We are so glad we had got to work with you.

  44. Amber says:

    What a great work Scott! They certainly got the right guy to bring it back. I will always remember working with you on the murals in the Police and Firestation in Burbank as a great experience.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Amber, Thanks for your kind remarks. We enjoyed working with you as the GC’s project manager on that high profile project.

  45. Shawn says:

    I’ve taken a few people over to see the “new” mural and even got up on the scaffolding yesterday and I am amazed and enthralled by the wonderful image, great colors and the historical overtones the mural adds to the City Council Chambers. Your work has been inspiring!

  46. Dan says:

    How does this painting compare to other WPA murals you’ve seen?

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks for your comment/question Dan. I’ve worked on preserving and restoring WPA murals all over the United States since about 1980. The style artist’s were painting in the 1930’s and 40’s took on the name “WPA Art” but is also known as Regionalism or Modernism. This style or quality of art was not American. It was very prevalent in Europe and embraced by the Fascist regimes as the official style of art. All other styles of art were not condoned. So, Dan, as you might expect, there are many different variations and qualities of this style. The paintings in Cedar Rapids City Hall are very good from their story telling point of view, very good from the noble worker (blue collar) theme, very good for relating to local life styles and stylistic quality of the painting itself is good too. These are murals the City can be proud of. While in the area there were artists that gained some notoriety, these artists got around but did not become famous. An internet search will bring up other projects they did.

  47. Renee says:

    Another great project under your belt. Congratulations!

  48. Blake says:

    Hey Scott, is City Hall the building across the river from Vets Memorial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa???

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Yes, it is Blake. FYI, the week we left, the river went from 11 ft to 22 ft and water poured into the basement of the newly renovated building! All’s under control though.

  49. Chris says:

    Cool mural. I love WPA art.

  50. Al says:

    This is just amazing

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