Bringing A Mural Back To Life, One Square Inch At A Time

American Progress - Jose Maria Sert Photo by Jaime Ardiles-Arce
American Progress by Jose Maria Sert at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York / Photo by Jaime Ardiles-Arce

After the Mexican painter Diego Rivera refused to alter a mural he had painted in the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, the work was destroyed. The fresco, showing Lenin and Moscow May Day scenes, was replaced by an even larger mural by Spanish painter Jose Maria Sert, titled American Progress, depicting a fantastic scene of men at work building modern America.

Now the mural is undergoing a three year thorough restoration to remove the darkened varnish that has muted its magnificence.

Carol Vogel, writing in the Arts & Design Section of the New York Times, describes the loving, painstaking labor of six conservators on a mission:

 Carefully concealed behind giant scrims, they spend hour after hour methodically removing decades of yellowed varnish from the building’s famed murals, one inch at a time.

Their work is so quiet and the scrims — blown-up photographs of the murals — so unobtrusive that nobody seems to notice them.

“The other day I sneezed and nearly scared someone to death,” said Gillian Randell, chief conservator for EverGreene Architectural Arts, the Manhattan company restoring the murals. (EverGreene has worked on other landmarks, including nearby Radio City Music Hall.)

Jose Maria would be pleased that so much care is being lavished on his work. As much care, it seems, as he put into creating the mural all those many years ago.

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