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CONSERVATOR BRINGS NEW LIFE TO TIMEWORN CEILING MURALS

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   If alumna Tatyana Thompson has one piece of advice for her fellow Bruins, it’s “Look up.” She’d like you to be in Royce Hall when doing so.

   Thompson is the painting conservator who, over a six-month period, worked to preserve and restore the murals by artist Julian Ellsworth Garnsey in Royce’s outside vaulted lobby and second-floor loggia.

   Garnsey wanted the murals, painted in 1929, to reflect the Lombard Romanesque style of Royce, which is modeled after Milan’s Sant’Ambrogio Church, built in the 10th through 12th centuries. To achieve an antique appearance, he used muted colors and a highly textured preparation of gesso so the murals, depicting great figures in the history of learning and philosophy, would look crusty and cracked. Garnsey painted two side bays in the loggia on canvas; the central loggia bay and downstairs vaulted lobby were painted directly on textured plaster.

   “These were done almost 70 years ago, and they suffered a lot of damage over time, as well as from the Northridge earthquake,” Thompson said. “Everything was quite murky. A lot of the paint was flaking and some pieces were missing. We had to reattach areas where the fabric came loose there were big, loose pockets, almost flapping in the wind.”

   Chalky salts and construction dust deposited on the paint surface also contributed to the murals’ deterioration.

   Thompson and her crew of four or five people began the hands-on conservation process after first photographing the murals and testing to determine the best methods to use on this particular job. In areas where the paint had lifted, an adhesive was used to reattach it to the fabric or plaster surface, then secured with heat from a small apparatus that looks like a tiny glue gun. In some cases, a kitchen iron did the job just as well. The next step was to clean the surfaces, then coat them with a dilute acrylic.

   Areas where paint was actually missing were filled with gesso then “in-painted,” or retouched. Only damaged areas were touched up; no original paint was painted over.

   In parts of the loggia, where relatively large areas of paint were missing, Thompson and her conservators did not attempt to recreate Garnsey’s work, but rather repainted in a neutral color, so the patches would recede. This is an acceptable practice in painting conservation, Thompson said, and was done primarily because of cost.

   One of the particularly interesting aspects of the job was in-painting the cut line where parts of the downstairs side bays were removed in order to fix the towers.

   “At first we thought the whole thing (murals in that area) would be destroyed,” Thompson said. But someone from the construction firm hired to work on Royce, Morley Construction, came up with the idea of removing huge triangular chunks from the corners of the bays to access and repair the towers, then replacing the bay segments.

   “They did a very good job of realignment,” Thompson said. “We all were quite happy with the idea and the results. UCLA was very committed to doing everything correctly.”

Copyright 1998 UCLA Today
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