Friends received a matching grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors. Historic Surfaces LLC was chosen to conduct phase one of the restoration. About the restoration project
Historic Surfaces LLC has now finished the initial phase of the restoration project.
Phase One steps included:
- Stabilization of loose paint
- Infill of losses in decoration to match the existing design
- Repainting of all flat and one color areas including all necessary surface preparation
- Restoration of scagliola columns, including removing the varnish and repolishing the surface
It was not uncommon for interior decoration to be a progression of changes and additions. This is certainly the case for the Ceremony Hall in the crematorium/columbarium building. After the original design was completed, later modifications were commonly done, often (but not always) by the original artist.
John Mallin received his first contract to decorate the Ceremony Hall in 1918. He received subsequent contracts from the cemetery association for additional painting of the hall in the decades to follow, with the last painting being done in the late 1940s.
Tony Kartsonas, our architectural conservator and historic finishes specialist
carrying out the restoration project, says that the Ceremony Hall is in
basically good condition except for areas of water damage. It is fortunate
that the Ceremony Hall had no previous, poorly done restoration attempts.
The gilt decoration on the plaster ornamentation appears to be in pretty good condition. There is not much loss, and the gold leaf has not been abraded by previous cleanings.
Close inspection shows significant areas of unstable plaster and paint.
Some areas of paint and plaster flake off when touched. This condition is seen in both plain-painted areas (above left) and in some of the decorative elements (above center and right). Some sections are so deteriorated that they will need to be repainted completely. Other areas just need to be “inpainted” or “infilled.”
This art restoration technique of inpainting, also called retouching, re-establishes color and detail to losses in the paint layer, using a brush to apply a pigment mixed with an appropriate binding material. The flat and one-color areas cannot be infilled. Those surfaces have to be replastered and prepared as needed, and then completely repainted.
The columns in the Ceremony Hall are excellent examples of marezzo scagliola, a hand-crafted marbling technique widely used in the United States from the mid-1800s to 1930s. This particular scagliola was made by splashing a paint and glue mixture on oil cloth and wrapping the cloth around the columns and smoothing the canvas. The paint was allowed to partly dry and, at just the right time, the canvas was peeled away, leaving a surface that had to be rubbed, sanded, and polished resulting in a lustrous marble look. At some later date, varnish was applied to the columns. The marezzo scagliola decoration of the columns probably dates to the 1920s.
The gold leaf on the columns was put on over an earlier layer of aluminum leaf. Tony found a pot stuffed with aluminum leaf paper and other trash high up in the dome. Tony thinks it dates from the 1918 original decoration.
The cleaned areas stand out.
Friends of BNC has raised almost a third of our $300,000 goal for restoring the artwork in the Ceremony Hall. The section restored during the first phase looks beautiful, and we were planning for the next phase when a heavy spring storm revealed a water leakage problem in the domed roof. To continue with restoration inside would be unwise, as the restoration could be ruined by water leaks.
Vice President of Friends and BNCA Trustee, Andy Bultas, tells us the last time any work was done on the dome itself was sometime in the 1970s. The cemetery has received estimates to repair the dome from several different contractors. All are over $100,000. This is because the copper cupola on top of the dome has to be replaced, along with much of the tile roofing.
At this time it is not possible for the cemetery to contract for these dome repairs because of all the other repairs that the cemetery faces.
The BNC Association is considering options to see that the repairs to the dome can be done. When they settle on a plan, Friends will do all it can to help so we can continue with the interior restoration.
Information on the next phase will be posted when available.