Gwen Manthey: Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts, Denver
Gwen Manthey, UD graduate student in art conservation, treats a large mural from the Park County Library in Cody, Wyo. The painting is by Wyoming artist John Walley, whose work was supported by the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project.


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11:30 a.m., July 28, 2010----I have been interning at the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts (WCCFA), a private practice located in Denver's Santa Fe Arts District, just south of downtown Denver, Colo.

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WCCFA serves the western half of the United States; paintings from as far away as Alaska and Jamaica are sent to the studio for treatment, and WCCFA conservators and interns travel to sites for in-situ treatments. I often work closely with Jose Lazarte Luna, a graduate of the University of Delaware undergraduate program in art conservation, who is also here for the summer. So far, I have treated a few individual paintings and collaborated on larger projects both in and outside of the studio.

Two 4-by-8-foot murals from the Park County Library in Cody, Wyo., also arrived for treatment. The paintings are by John Walley, a Wyoming artist trained at the Art Institute of Chicago who received support from the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) to create these murals. While the paintings were owned by the library, there was not sufficient space to hang the large works, and they were loaned to a nearby hotel for several decades.

Funds were raised for a new library building, big enough to display the murals, but conservation was required. While on display at the hotel, generations of dust and dirt settled onto the surface, and one of the mural's Masonite supports had been damaged. The murals required grime removal and minor consolidation of paint, and the broken Masonite was repaired by a supporting patch. The treatment is completed, but frames must be built before they can be sent back to the Park County Library.

I am currently in Missoula, Mont., with Carmen Bria and Jose, to do on-site treatment in the Forestry Building at the University of Montana. Irvin “Shorty” Shope painted three 6.5-by-5-foot murals on the history of forestry with WPA/FAP funding in the 1930s, and they were installed on the south wall of the entry stairwell to the building. Nearly 20 years later, the University of Montana Forestry Club raised funds for additional murals to hang on the north wall; these paintings were individually completed and installed in 1950, 1955 and 1957.

The murals have been untouched since their installation, and generations of dust obscured the images. However, the paintings are in remarkable condition since their position high above reach prevented the murals from being torn, abraded, or otherwise damaged. We were able to clean all six murals and reveal the brilliant colors underneath, and a coat of varnish resaturated the images and provides a thin, protective barrier from future grime and dust.

We are also scheduled to assess a collection of paintings for the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyo., and assess the condition of National Park Service murals in Mesa Verde, Colo., where I plan to visit the abandoned cliff dwellings. I will also be accompanying Yasuko Ogino, a WCCFA conservator, to Cheyenne, where we will study some murals by Allen True to examine their condition.

On my way to my internship in Denver, I was asked to stop by and give a presentation on conservation to the North Central Illinois ARTworks, and answer questions from practicing artists on best practices and materials. They greatly enjoyed the talk, and I have been asked to stop again as I travel back east to give them a presentation on my projects at WCCFA.

More information on WCCFA and staff profiles can be found at the center's website.