Monday, November 2, 2009

Removing the Murals

The above photo shows the restoration team left to right: Jillian Cyca, Angela Christie, Ian Hodkinson, Julie Oh and Brenda Lee Smith. Brenda is a conservator in Regina and a former student of Ian's. Jillian, Angela, and Julie are U of S graduates involved in the arts. The work began on November 2 and is scheduled to be completed by November 30.

Week one was spent preparing the murals for removal and familiarizing the assistants with the process. The process is called the "strappo" method. It involves painting glue (in this case Nova Scotia codfish glue) over the surface of the mural, embedding two layers of fine canvas into the glue, then letting it dry until the glue is bonded to the mural surface. The canvas is then peeled off the wall, removing the painted surface. Next, the back of the canvas is painted with a primer before applying fiberglass, aluminum honeycomb, and a wood frame to give it structure. Finally, the water based glue and canvas are washed off the front, revealing the original image. This method was successfully used to restore a small mural on an interior wall. We hope that the same method will work equally well with the other murals, however the plaster appears to be loose on some exterior brick walls and there is a risk that it could break off. All work will be performed in a large area outside the murals room which has been outfitted as a workshop, thanks to the generous help of Maple Leaf Foods.

On Monday two murals were successfully removed: the guitar and a minor image. On Wednesday the largest image was removed. This was a high-risk mural since it was on an exterior wall and Ian had worried that the plaster could break off. By Friday only four images remained on the wall. While removing the images from the walls has gone well, the process of finishing them with a fiberglass backing is proving to be a long and difficult multi-step process. Every step has presented challenges which have required ingenuity and a great deal of experimentation. Ian explains that he is unaware that anyone has ever restored an acrylic painting before, so we are breaking new ground here in Saskatoon.

WEEKS 3 and 4
All the images were successfully stripped from the walls. The mayor and CTV News were there to witness the removal of the final image. The mayor even agreed to climb up onto the scaffold to assist rolling the last image onto a cardboard roll. The spent the remainder of November building backing panels for the murals, however there was not enough time to mount all the images onto the panels in a presentable format. Ian returned to Ontario on December 1.

Ian will return in April to complete the job. He took two blank wall samples back to Ontario and will spend time this winter experimenting on them to find an effective way to mount them onto the fiberglass panels. One possible method may involve using a vacuum to force the canvas flat onto the panels. Another option is to use heat activated epoxy impregnated with 'micro balloons' to minimize the fluidity of the epoxy. We are currently working to find a new workshop for him, since the Maple Leaf building will have been demolished by then. We are hoping Angela, Jillian and Julie will also be available to help again in April. Their contribution throughout November was crucial and also made the project much more enjoyable.