Demolition to Restoration: The Conservation of John Steuart Curry's Biochemistry Murals

by the enemy of science arts the letters I’m Jennifer Smith and the director niteline a series of talks called academy evenings to find out what else we have going on this fall please pick up one of our branch season schedule things like this and they’re right by the back door we have a lot of other great things going on so please grandma spoons already today we have a special academy afternoon featuring art conservator john boarman and following this we actually have another science festival event today at three o’clock chemist Ravi Shriner will get a demonstration and talked up at our James Rogers gallery which is on the third floor of the overture center his talk is about color perception and it ties in with our gallery exhibition called about seeing which features the work of artists who whose careers have been affected by visual impairments but right now I’d like to introduce John Norman Jones paintings conservator at the Midwest our conservation center in minneapolis she joined the staff there in 1989 she has exceptional training and experienced the conservation of both historic and contemporary paintings she was the lead conservator of working on the protection and restoration of the Jones to recurring your awesomeness building when it was under renovation a few years ago Joan holds an mfa degree and certificate for Advanced Study in the conservation of fine art from the state university of new york at buffalo she also has a master of museum practice degree from the University of Michigan as you may know John Steuart curry was artist in residence of the UW from 1936 until his death a decade later well it’s not unusual these days for a university that have an artist in residence career was the first at any American University and what makes it really fascinating is that he was invited to Madison by a college of ag and life sciences Cal’s has a long history of bringing culture and agriculture to Kathryn and the curry residency is a great example of that while the brain was here he created heroes at least stairwell that you can see called the social benefits of biochemical research there are some additional murals in a conference room that you can also see while you’re here typically that room is locked but we made sure today so please don’t miss that after the talk and Joan has said that she can walk down there with us and we can look at this and you can ask questions together so I think that would be really a wonderful I’d also like to point out biochem professor Dave Nelson is over here he’s also extremely knowledgeable about John Steuart curry and can also answer your questions now please join me in welcoming John Berman coming out today this perceptional all day I’m not sure I can we bring down the lights just a little bit enhance our our visuals nice like okay No oh I kind of like oh I’m George will get the right comedy there that’s a joke Norman I am very familiar with this nothing i first came here in 2006 to examine in detail narrows that I’ll be talking about today and we finish this project earlier in 2012 so it’s been a big part of my life first of all disclaimer I am NOT a scientist I am NOT an important I’m in our conservator which is a combination of very high skills great knowledge of the history of conservation the history of art and spattering of physical sciences my experiences so we’re scientists don’t even pretend to be but we do utilize a lot of will steal anything that makes our job better just a word about organization tiger Midwest our conservation center is located in

Minneapolis and there for over 30 years warehouse they have been from the beginning in the Minneapolis Institute are fabulous arts organization beautiful museum I’ve been there and you haven’t be in Minnesota to stop by and see it this is a regional art conservation lab it’s very old well it goes back to the early 50s in the 50s there were very few professionally trained urban centers so this is a concept of a regional art conservation plan was developed where a lab we have a membership of arguing of cultural institutions our museums historical societies universities churches you know whatever organization of nonprofit organization have a collection could be a member of the organization well this law offices all these years later over 16 years later we have a large back you have two paintings of the servers to objects conservators to servers who work exclusively on works of our paper attached to a conservator and we also have an educational goes out into the field and help smaller institutions with their storage exhibition administration registration so it’s a very active we have over 200 institutions no lack work we also to work for privately here’s a little photo of marble slab with in high-tech it runs like a little a little boat everything in its place nothing to sit around that we don’t use is filled out the space space the final frontier we have a go Phillip now this is typical of what my colleague David Marquis and I do smaller missile painting that I’m showing me now which is from 1830 it’s a German bridal portrait it would have been accompanied by a portrait of the woman’s grown um it’s 12 inches by 12 inches and a while it was very very small they had it needed and I call it everyday and you’d ever see it horrible discoloured varnish a great French through the face another tear down in the bodice flaking paint lower right corner I mean it was this is more typical another example of needs ok this is quite large it’s probably 35 25 inches a really stunning landscape by a Canadian artists this is from about the 1850s 1840s his name was lumens Charles lumens runtex blues not exclusively but but extensively in Canada and United States turns out I enter sandwich wouldn’t go sides of four foot faculty you know this is what we do but we also have long history of working on meros here i am on a scaffold fairly a lot of scaffold in a small and catholic church in LOL northeastern area with a subject a little backs which was very badly damaged by a leaking roof once we made sure that roof was sound restored the live with a little bit at the top the figure of god in the firmament the Holy Spirit represented over him was gold leaf well we metal thief and someone had scrubbed off all of the little Technic metal leave Dan and artistic on in a little mosaic squares just the paint is a little [ __ ] of course but someone is we restored that there was just enough evidence to connect dots those projects are very very interesting because there are problems solving a scale if you don’t go to get the stuff we carried around by ourselves David and I always enjoyed which of course brings us to the jon stewart korean girls at biochemistry

do wonderful years and they are meaningful on many many levels this is sort of a words of shotgun photographers tough but kind of dramatic you’re looking at the mural in the Fourier which will see a while this is during the last stages project so what abroad conservators to a major project and the University of Wisconsin add the biochemistry Department obviously there are murals but there were two easy over here and first was that the university was planning the major welcome our chemistry department university was planning a major expansion of the campus of biochemistry very important work has been done in this department there’s an continues and the need for research facilities is constant I’m sure and what you’re looking at is in the lower left corner is university avenue and there is henry hall ball excuse me where which is life science buildings one side the 1912 building and journalism building agricultural engineering and around the corner on University Avenue the wing that was added in 1937 the green tree is the old elvia start out out here and the murals look out over that little 40 over the tree fell for Jenni the biochem edition 1997 is every day that’s the one in the upper left corner so everything in color is what has a padded and the shunt rulers and blue of the corner there between the old buildings and the 90 95 tower is that beautiful new research tower it’s six storeys above ground and for no ground so much of this facility that you do not see in the shell of the 1912 1937 building all of this was so that’s one of the reasons we were here we were here basically to make sure that the just work the other end of this project in one piece and it took an enormous team to do it not just conservatives for my organization so the other reason here’s just a wonderful photograph of the new tower in 1937 bill that historical tree which by the way made it through all that construction here is a shot of the outside of the 37 building and the girls are on what is called first apartment at seven floral above limestone there on the right-hand side of the doorway at the top of a stairwell here is the stairwell 40 a big triptych and the accommodate panels and the southern our group is that window grade up there first so as Jennifer mentioned just for creek a year in 1936 as the first artist in residence probably in any university and is a wonderful photograph of justin currie and an assistant working on the stairwell for a there are number of wonderful historic photographs which were sort of rediscovered dreams this project the other reason we’re here is not just to protect the girls but the murals had some condition problems and they’ve been driven for photograph on the right is a colleague of mine person I went to school with in the early 1980s and who came here with a group of graduate students from the Cougars channel graduate program are the State University College of New York to work all deals with with a couple of full-fledged conservatives working as their supervisors the murals in 1984 Corrigan horrible condition they were

very bad due to damage panel damage just everyday use but also quite badly damaged by leaking pipes plumbing ball there was a leak in the 48 below a toilet room was a drinking fountain or big trippin with in Fourier damage there was a lab bench above I believe it was a lavage sink rather above the murals in this corner room and the conservators in any floor did a fabulous job we didn’t we first over it was so beautifully done that that’s named me zoom in pain in 2012 after many years of covering the girls that went farm hums do a lot of things were done well before we get into what we did who’s jon stewart Kurt was this guy he was a member of a group of of artists working from about 1920 until well actually one of them well into the 1970s call American regions they’re a group of artists really actively and quite verbally turned their backs on modernism and instead turned inward to the American landscape American life and the American of the heart grant and the three components were that’s on the right hand side is there is chicken stir Korea left grant wood on the right and a very very quite a tough guy thomas hart benton quite a great fan of all three of them Grant Wood I mean you might not know his name you’ve always armed this is a little detail from a painting and at the minneapolis institute of arts it’s it is in its all the way while it represents the heartland and it’s very American it is quite abstract he had beautiful children from forms and was a great designer now that boy was born in Iowa he was a printing or a silversmith a teacher founders of the school he studied in Chicago Art Institute in New York in Paris when he met the attitude major figures in the movement they were there were friends for life but you know his work even though you know and this is a you know as a nighttime of American life how many times is this thing that spooked them oh it’s it’s beloved if you wish to see it it’s one of their master works there’s always someone standing in front of us painting when he presented his hair it’s not a farmer is wife it’s actually a portrait of the artist sister Nancy ordinator and the artist dentist the little building in background is farm house not far from where he lived then the building still stands so we actually go into Iowa thomas hart benton amazing he was the most vocal of the three he dissed Modern Art in a very big way to make a lot of friends but he was an incredibly successful pretty finger artist found it a schooling in Kansas City and lived there most of his life travel extensively he was actually born into a very well-to-do family in Kansas City he studied in Paris in Europe Chicago just like the other three days because they know well they weren’t there quite at the same time x art metal was unbelievable forgiving also distilling it down to a very beautiful design for his work is crowded is it a good example these are the murals at you’re ever down there Kansas City Kansas is the home of the dwight d eisenhower library and

these are the murals in the lobby of the fantastic they just entirely surround you his his themes were much more political than grant wood and just recruiting I mean he depicted the Klu Klux Klan and clip strife the blight of of Native Americans slavery in a way to a degree grant wood and to a certain degree the curry did not toss our benefit I think well into the 1970s and his and I incredible by work so our guy was born in Kansas and he was a farmer although his parents were very well educated in three trout melter proud he was a virgin me his whole life fireman and I think a lot of his art reflects that I would describe his work here view of the SS right here as much more lyrical than grant wood’s style and surfing you know tougher oval bed in style of just hurry traveled to Paris studying with very important painters in Paris in the nineteen teens and 20s he too was a printmaker of fabulous he worked as illustrator for newspaper illustrator magazines they’re produced many covers for The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers other magazines until he settled into a career as an easel and his paintings are feather carve this is the scene right here in Wisconsin wall what’s more powerful the Mid Western theme the fires in the foreground rushing to get thing the hay into me it seems to be a very far away are the light and made its it’s amazing powerful it’s not very loud 30 inches by 20 inches now this painting I first saw when I was about six years old I don’t know where I saw it maybe in an encyclopedia or in one of our little house books I didn’t know did this painting for about you know 50 years so until i came across it maybe four years as jon stewart kurtzberg I this painting scared of the UK myself as a child I grew up in the Midwest too and we did have tornadoes initiative but I what I loved about this was not powered major of the effect of humans here is that was rushing into the root cellar look at the look of the face of the modern clutching her and she’s just a shin and the kids of course we’re kids going to do crab and pets the dog the young lad has the puppies cradling his arm and I was always fascinated by the cat who’s ready just to take off the LC and then most felt kind of bad in which it wasn’t happy so that’s John Stehr Jastrow career we had a wonderful wonderful player Wow Korea was here in in Wisconsin he got a commission of a lifetime it was a mural series at stake out of Kansas his home state in Topeka and here he is probably a staged photograph he’s promised but painting the menu panel of the series Kansas he they threatened the legislature threatened and painted over rip it off Paul they painted every Buddhist and it was a very contentious relationship between the citizens legislature words and the artist well I mean it’s a very very powerful piece blood on his hands vitamin one he had a rifle and the other dead a dead Union and attempt a Confederate soldier at his feet it’s a representation of the advent

on one side tornado of the other affair entire book the citizens of Kansas had just lived through the premiere of The Wizard of Oz you know we’re not in Kansas anymore tornadoes the stereotype they felt that that curry was representing them in a way they felt far more prairie fires tornadoes and conditions so he stormed out of Kansas he never signed the girls and you cannot be the single thing about tourism in Kansas without seeing this narrow somewhere in the literature Kansas is incredibly proud at least I mean they’re they’re they’re bastards so times change but curry never enjoyed that adulation I don’t think he I think he returned to Kansas again in a couple in nineteen in mezz it was not a nice relationship so we would later on after these Kansas in conjunction with his friends at the AG department and agricultural chemistry department Stewart cited store photography Mr curry decided this cycle of murals i’m going to show you the before treatment this is how i first saw girls in the floor as a terrazzo floor was pretty beat up the murals had once again since 1984 yes my colleagues in 84 did a beautiful job restoring the girls but nobody fix the plumbing so the money we will continue to leak and there was a lot of flaking paint a lot of insecure pain stinging so their dilemma nated unanimously they’re painted on canvas that are glued to the wall in the 40 a it’s a very heavy weight linen canvas in the seminar rooms as lightweight as a piece of hash fabrica like a Muslim it’s very very so you’ll see that the ceiling is painted bright white even the little lights that illuminate the murals are painted oh I mean it’s not true I’ll just be a little tour of what they look like here are two companion paddles we’ll see them a little bit they’ll notice that curry is using with go back this is using a device to tell his tale of light and dark you’ll notice that on the far left of the far right of the triptych there is a line diagonal line here on the right on the left is the effect of human animal and agriculture without the benefits of biochemistry research the animals are incredibly sick the children have rickets plants are dying on the right healthy animals healthy humans healthy crops and in the center korea is actually depicted many members of amazing array of the scientists and the professors who worked in the department and you know they’re coming over bringing the children into the light the animals in the back horses it’s a wonderful composition their panties is just opposite triptych again the same device is used of dark and light you can see for yourself the healthy adults the second dying animals on the right beautiful crops with a little props benefits now little seminar is entirely different it’s almost this is the public art when you go to the seminar it’s very intimate is lyrical it’s it’s lovely here on one mo Lawal back wall of the seminar people is this gorgeous landscape of Wisconsin I don’t know how many times I’ve been in every 17 pound sentences I know exactly where that is they need some place and then someone else does it I don’t see anywhere that they even other so is it’s

one of those images that that people identified right wrong as you go around the room you know the landscape comes around to the tooth or two windows on west wall it’s around with all foremost authority of you’ll notice will get wonderful rest lights in town the ceiling is bright white and over the years the Bluebird can just been hacked so handily was taken out they put it for my cup panels I mean they really want up they took out the cork original cork floor put in you know vinyl tiles pain in the ceiling white I mean it was really it was very sad so as we come around the room central panel I don’t know what to look again the scientist and a second window in the corner suddenly we see a change in the landscape industry and I went quite on those vertical pipes those has been there from the very day Jeff just repeated around those those are part of the steam heating plant you know it was there and you can see that he really didn’t even middle all the way in there and finishes this landscape so those two pipes became an important part of the restoration and the back wall this is very interesting you’ll see that the ways coating the bottom sections it’s a lovely folk and you can see the panel’s their poster for Michael piles and then this is blank open space in the middle of all what is that when cream did the bureau’s have been to the seminar room there was this big metal box sitting right there was an air conditioner that room faces West and when that elm tree outside was little and didn’t shade that broom the broom must have been a furnace so it was it was actually a big metal air conditioner there it is a long gone but the composition very much they were going to move the artesian it so created round as you come around a room that was constant River lovely wood landscape behind a door and we come around to the doorway and the light switches and there’s the one wall there is occupied chiefly by slate blackboard so what do we have to do you know doing a lot construction on this site what did he do in conjunction with the architectural firm and Jennifer flag and the construction of indoor and the great fortune of working with the preservation architecture manana as a team what were we going to do to protect these things to make sure they came out the other end in one piece a lot first it started first in the planning phases we removed all of the plumbing from above all of the bureau’s you know it’s a major demolition and construction so if you get these things out on you know on the drawing board that’s the time to do so all the plumbing is moved from above and they put in the sprinkler system which is cold but it’s a dry Springs so that you know water hasn’t seen the pipes above it waiting for that fight so we started by covering the murals with a very common material house wrap tiger stuff they put on houses before the purple that stuff this happens to be imprinted but it’s the same it’s a very stable doing it’s one of the most stable materials Brown is a nonwoven material meaning it’s made of many layers of synthetic material it’s pretty you know resist water it’s not entirely untrue but it’s a material that funds vapor passed through it it’s set on this mules for many years and didn’t transfer

anything chemical or harmful to yourself the first thing was to kind of wallpaper the grain in tight rack you can see here is that blackboard alone one wall and we’re working our way across the top now you see the room semi in a state of devilish the ceiling is gone cold but the ceiling itself is gone they’ve taken up the old tile floor the tiger was then covered with basically a free-standing wall two by fours over which panels of plywood replaced so well the plight was there to prevent the accumulation of the considerable construction dust dirt and debris is flowing around for years but also to act as a mechanical barrier between the world and the neural group very very well and here’s just a picture in the seminar room looking out and if you notice if you look out the door there’s a wall the entire area was enclosed in a plywood room so many layers on the murals and then the whole area was enclosed so here was this room within the building standing quite independently it had its own first it was a secure area a limited movement of the construction guys was fairly limited and other things happen too because they plan to remove the roof on this feeling of the 1937 Billy so on the floor above the murals they build an interior roof system so that just in case the water fell from the sky and / get girls themselves would be protected here is that we within room that was built around a large manages to circulate the conditioned air literally there was furnace sitting out in front of girls in stairwell or take so all these layers of protection it was necessary at one point something had to be done about the triptych wall and the two accompanying panels in the stairwell for a it was found that the wall that the big triptych sits on wasn’t really connected to anything on the top he was sort of this freestanding wall and there was some movement of the ball so intervention structural necessary this is the reverse of that wall there were these big risk pipes you can see the big bump out there and some of the pipes in place above basically stabilize the ball the wall was encapsulated with many layers of resin and fiberglass mix diggity and stuff not just the wall a triptych but really all the way around for you just to make sure that there wasn’t then firstly affect the murals themselves it turned out there was a little movement because there was there were pre-existing cracks in that wall and it was from those waste pipes they basically build the wall around the waste pipes and they didn’t do a very good job and that weight is transferred to the front so basically any decoration anyone was frozen at this point so this is the extraordinary amount of care given over a very long period of time this protection went up again in 2008 so years later and then one of you of that reinforcement in the stairwell forehead then they blew the building apart this is biochem this is the interior of this building and over there on the lower floor they took out everything to the exterior walls puron euros sitting up

there and this just looks around it here it is the space you’re sitting in right now that connection between the 1930s and the 1912 building we just blew it up but they kept the facade of all along University Avenue this is sort of when they started construction another photograph I mean this is what these buildings well show you where the girls are okay here is that center section where we’re sitting right now the second story where that worker is standing the murals are just a few feet away from that this is what was going then they decided to blow up University Avenue and then and then then they done all the China free over there or the new research tower literally feet away from the murals and here is a few of biochem on the right hand side is 1912 building there is the facade Sheldon standing and this is the 1937 building where the news and as you can see it’s just the crane the bags for the research tower and over the years the research charla up the exterior of these buildings the historic buildings were restored including beautiful new windows all of the masonry was appointed and paired beautiful new Dallas pouts and gutters I mean the exteriors of the buildings of these storage buildings are absolutely but yeah there’s another floor going up on the tower and you can see 1937 background without any windows it looks like I mean this just went long and here you’re the completion of the tower and about every three months I travel for Minneapolis here to biochemistry sleet and rain and snow and heat to examine the euros to make sure that they were coming through everything very so again to show the extraordinary care so finally finally construction is to a point where the walls came down and the two-by-fours came down and we remove the top tie back to came back to school so I years later there they were we were delighted to see how well they want first up was to do a technical examination every square inch under as you can see rather punishing light to make sure their minerals in a word not further damage to mak any problems basically comparative the condition by 1912 to our 2012 2012 to that of ninety 2006 that their work drastic changes and there were no nothing we were astounded now about the restoring the girls the room itself was being worked on electricians I see that lovely blue door that had to be replaced with a beautiful outdoor you can see that the wainscoting would work has not been worked on the floor is still concrete the ceiling has been painted this beautiful warm color and the original color of the ceiling was determined by by doing paint analysis scraping down through the layers and find the original car and it was amazing having the ceilings painted from that bright white beautiful warm color the murals looked brighter more saturated you could actually see the images because the whites here ago just compete you know the contrast is so high it makes a year old darker and it was transforming lovely to see them like you’ll notice that there’s a little

white lie below the plaster code we asked the painters in that I’m getting anywhere near the mural so the one of the last things we did is get up there with a small brush and finish the cove painting and then it’s what we do we don’t we don’t drip painting my business so you’ll notice that would work is really a very raw state that big white box over there and still there the artist painted around the ocean and here’s my colleague Elizabeth Elizabeth before this is during the restoration you can see the tree outside the window and beautiful replacement window with ultraviolet and infrared filtration that’s built way into the class it’s not a film it’s actually part of the glass elizabeth is she has a little palette and in a very tiny brush Russia invading small losses which brings me a little bit to our the philosophy of concentration basically do no harm Sr that’s our coal but in conservation anything that we add to work of art whether it’s an easel painting a mural a sculpture of a work of art on paper must be reversible or pretty down to their clubs that’s our that’s our master goal is to use materials that can be removed from the object of Herman it also might be detectable why another conservator to your I know to another conservative they should be able to identify the materials added and the materials that we had should be drilled and we saw this by using mainly synthetic resins that when we in pain with tiny losses would how many brushes we’re using a medium that will not discolor or change chemical a good time so those are our goals and our materials are very much prescribed by our profession and we very rarely use the same materials are used original idea brands now this is a grossa of the damage from water you notice with very badly damaged before was restored in 1984 and here is that area in the seminar room above the light switches like once again same area was damaged and this is our work in feelings of loss is not only in the Ural itself but also in the cove this is really before the losses were dressed put the fill material on but that can be very carefully clean it off so it’s it’s only within the love the Kuno or the loss in the work of art so this is this looks a little sloppy but here is that same area after in paint your matching very carefully the surrounding colors and you can see that the cold is yet to be touched up that wasn’t here is the quarter in the seminar room and you can see the white going up the junction of the two walls they’re quite a few in losses in separation there and especially along the top and there were some losses especially on this wall here who concedes of a triangle loss very carefully filled cleaned away so this within the area of loss and then very carefully so that you know your eye doesn’t stop on that damage is joy heart and here’s that quarter for advice work well the over the love those steam pipes were removed during demolition because they were no longer publishing and we have to do something like this or so here it is basically before treatment and here you can see some of our fills where you know hardware colliding into the wall and through the canvas meanwhile the supporting wall and

hear their fill and we pray before we painting and you’ll see when we go into the seminar that dummy pipes have a place there because they were always pipes and they are dissipated around there’s David Davis thank his the entire time we were here working on the murals in the foyer there was a great deal of work there was a little bit of delaminating cares that he had to reattach and though was the foyer because it’s so public an area that had a lot of the cattle damage Elizabeth working on one of the compan now just a couple of befores and afters here is the area around the light switches in the seminar and you know this is an area where people reach around and they flip the switches you can see that outside edges to totally cheat up lots of mechanical damage and here it is after restoration I very carefully save that light switch plate and kind of tucked it away clean it up and put it back out there and although all the switches aren’t you aside I market the electrician in some that’s a lily in fields where there weren’t actually switches but wanted it to that here is the corner by we know where the windows of the west wall get an outside corner he beat up and you can see just a little bit of a beautiful woodwork that was restored around it really nice job and a seminar as it is today a lot of materials and the design of this room the specifications 1937 still existed so they would follow people work for the style of the wainscoting is determined in those specs and here is the solution for that big metal air conditioning unit instead a very nicely designed cabinet in both to match once again just to remind you of that horrible start white ceiling and the the fluorescent lamps see help replace period-style lamps the room is just another view the old radiators of course removal because the HVAC system in this building was completely install but they sort of when is double radiator covers where the radiance just given that look I’m a morning heated by rapist so that’s the restoration and I think we should just go and take a look at the Furies together that’d be okay great