Preserving post office art for future generations By Marilyn Jones
14 october 2012
Photos used by permission of the united states postal service. all rights reserved.
t has been at least seven decades since post office murals were painted — years of sunlight and other environmental elements slowly fading the original brilliant colors and covering the art with a film of microscopic debris. Because of postal budget considerations, in many cases it’s the community or its historical societies that have taken on the fundraising to pay for preserving these art treasures. Parma Conservation, Ltd. — a Chicago-based specialist in restoration and recovery of historic artwork — is known for its expertise in restoring murals and is often called upon to handle the painstakingly tedious job of restoring post office murals. Since its founding in 1998, Parma Conservation has conserved more than 200 historic murals in municipal buildings, museums, post offices, churches and schools across the United States. Parma conservators use a scientific evaluation process to determine the appropriate treatment. The artwork itself governs which conservation approach is the most thorough, proper and safe. Often the murals need surface cleaning. Parma’s methodology is based on chemicals and techniques that will remove foreign material while protecting the original surface. Cleaning systems are designed specifically to meet the cleaning requirements of each particular artwork. Parma has adopted cleaning technology developed by leading conservation scientists in the United States and abroad. Though certain cleaning technology can provide greater predictability and control to the conservator, according to Parma’s website, it must also be emphasized that conservation relies heavily on practical data, where professional experience is critical. The science of the particular artwork, its deficiencies, and its merits, and the unique characteristics of the particular artwork are always guiding parameters in both the choice and execution of safe and appropriate materials and techniques. Any pre-existing paint chip-losses or scratches in the surface may be filled with a compensating filling material. Filling materials must be compatible, react consistently with the artwork and also be 100 percent reversible. For more information about post office mural preservation and conservation, visit the website www. parmaconservation.com. A
Lee R. Warthen of Washington D.C., painted “Cotton Scene” for the Hartselle Post Office. Photo by Sandy Scott
Conrad A. Albrizzio painted “Shipment of First Iron Produced in Russellville,” in fresco on the walls of the Russellville Post Office in 1938. Photo by Sandy Scott
Harwood Steiger painted the landscape titled “Harvest at Fort Payne” in 1938 for the Fort Payne Post Office. The artwork is now located at the Richard C. Hunt Reception Hall, owned by Landmarks of DeKalb County. Photo by Michael Cornelison