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Mural Conservation, Paintings Conservation:

Public art can celebrate and revitalize a community, but years of exposure to the elements can take a toll on any outdoor work of art. Conservators Stefan Dedecek and Christina L. Simms recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to perform a conservation treatment of an outdoor mural in the historic Le Droit Park neighborhood near Howard University.

The mural, This is How We Live, 2008 by artist Garin Baker features the African-American heritage of the neighborhood – illustrating members of the community, a view of the park and homes, and the US Capitol building. In the foreground of the mural is the “gateway” to Le Droit Park, located where Florida Avenue, 6th and T Streets, NW meet. As of 2015; this gateway also marks the starting point of the Le Droit Park/Bloomingdale Heritage Trail.

The mural is painted on the side of a row home adjacent to a dog park and playground and not too far is Cookie’s Corner convenience store on Elm Street. Unfortunately, the sun has faded the once brilliant colors of the mural and there were many areas of lifting paint or complete losses of the original artwork. The current condition was a serious issue since it did not reflect the original grandeur of the mural, and if left untreated, would only further deteriorate without mural conservation treatment.

After an examination, it was decided that the goal of the mural conservation work was to preserve as much of the original painting while extending its life outdoors for as long as possible in-situ. The first step of treatment was to consolidate areas of damage including the tenting, cupping, and lifting paint. It was completed with a thermal set adhesive working from the ground and from man lift. The colors were still faded though, and there were large areas where the image was still missing.

The next step was to apply an overall exterior, conservation-grade varnish with a brush applied to the entire surface. This resaturated the colors as much as possible, and the varnish layer also provided an isolating layer for inpainting. Once the varnish dried, the next treatment step was to recreate areas of loss. Missing areas were repainted in the same style and manner as the artist with conservation-grade paints. Conservators Dedecek and Simms worked from known images of the mural and by matching the surrounding colors and forms.

While working in the DC summer heat was no easy task, eventually the mural began to come together as areas of loss were inpainted. Before and after images, reveal the transformation. A final varnish was then sprayed over the surface to marry the original and inpainted areas as well as provide an overall protective coating to the mural. While the condition issues are inherent to the mural, with monitoring and future intervention, the mural can be enjoyed for many years to come.

McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation Laboratory would like to thank the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities as well as members of the community who visited us during the conservation of the Garin Baker mural in the Le Droit Park Historic District.

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