Mormon Pioneer Settlers Depicted in Historic 1938 WPA Mural

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Brigham Young is credited with the unparalleled settling of the West during the great expansion period of US History (according to US History books… not according to Native American’s history, of course).

This Portrait of Brigham Young, done in a live sitting, is in our art conservation laboratory right now being readied for an exhibition at Princeton University

Interestingly, the settling process of “new lands”, towns/cities and commerce routes was done often by inexperienced immigrants looking for new opportunities. The initial settling of the area meant the initial arrival of a few folks… then a trickle of people joined them until a town formed.

This was the case, in the beginning, of Price, Utah in South Central Utah among the red earth table top landscape filled with dinosaur bones. Not long later, however, with the discovery and refinement of coal as a natural resource, the area around Price boomed.

It all began in 1877 when Caleb Rhoades (Rhodes) and Abraham Powell came into the valley to trap and homestead. It was wild country and the story goes that Powell was killed by a bear. But within a couple of years family members of the trappers and other settlers were moving in.

Settling kicked into gear with the beginning of the construction of the Denver and Rio Grand railroad through the valley and Price was set up as a RR station. It was during this industrial development that Bishop George Frandsen established the LDS Church organization in 1882.

Bishop George Frandsen

All the people in the group are actual portraits of the Mormon settlers.

Under the direction of Bishop Frandsen, the townsite was surveyed, The Price Water Company was formed to bring water to the townsite and city building construction began including a church building, a school and a Price City civic building. (1)

In the 1930’s Depression Era WPA City Hall of Price City, there is a remarkable mural that documents the history of this area and includes, prominently, the early LDS congregation. (see short video at end of this article)

The mural is remarkable because, out in the middle of Billy the Kid country one is surprised to see a quality mural… and a big one at that! The panorama historical WPA mural is 4′ high and 200′ feet long and depicts the life of the area’s original pioneers and cowboys… truly a time capsule of the Old West. Renown artist, Lynn Fausett, a native of Price, Utah was just the right person in 1938 to pull together this historically accurate mural of his country.

The Works Progress Administration (the name was changed to the Work Projects Administration a year after it got started) funded a municipal building in Price that was the perfect place for Fausett’s talents and vision for the mural. Based on photos, entries in archives and his own personal experiences, he planned the composition of this historical rendering of his town for the mural.

This really was the far west of cowboys, bandits and pioneers. Our fantasies of the Old West are mostly made up of romantic encounters and full of folklore, novels, movies etc. But back then, Fausett had lived this life among the buildings in this mural and knew these people. This mural is an authentic historical record of actual people (whose names are written below their portraits), buildings, customs and the process of taming the Wild West. The mural is a documentation of the pioneer settlers, the beginnings of society in the newly constructed town and the development of the area and its industries.

Old West Trading Post

From the historical mural in Price Utah

35 years ago my painting conservation career in the USA (I studied and started working in Italy) started in Utah and I’ve known Lynn Fausetts painting style, having worked on the restoration of his paintings previously and looked at many others. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t previously impressed with his painting style compared to the other Utah Impressionists that came before him.

When I first saw this mural, I was surprised… this mural may have been the masterpiece of his early career. The faces were very well done and reflect feeling and expressions that were quite realistic.

This mural was considered so well done and so historical that it was a main reason why the entire WPA funded building was added to the US Register of Historic Properties, a considerable honor… but then something happened.

Fausett was employed to “touch up” the murals in the 1960s and, as is almost always the case, artists don’t respect the qualities of the earlier work and has to change or update it. This happened on this mural when Fausett repainted most of the faces and much of the composition. The result was a change in style and, in my opinion, a reduction in the quality of the mural.

The result of Fausett’s repainting in oil, today, is a blotchy discoloration of the retouchings as they have aged at a different rate than the original mural. This is especially noticeable in the sky. Touch up of the seams of the canvas glued to the wall are discolored as are many other details.

Entrance lobby to City Hall for Price, Utah with the panorama murals by Lynn Fausett 1938-1941

It is presumed also that he varnished the murals, and likely didn’t clean them first. So, a gray layer is trapped. Then add to that the following 40+ years of grime deposited on the surface and that brings us to todays appearance: considerably muted, flattened depth of field and contrast in the composition and an overall grayish appearance.

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories is honored to have been called and entrusted with the health and art restoration of this historical mural, so important to the City of Price and to the area. We removed the last 40+ years of grime which brightened the painting considerably, without risk to the paint layers. However, we were hesitant to remove the old varnish as, according to preliminary tests, it would be hard to remove without damage to the original paint and would result in disturbing the retouchings that Fausett put on the mural in the 60s thereby opening the proverbial “can of worms” during the cleaning and causing a real mess, even seriously damaging the mural.

Water damage infiltrations have occurred in the last years that have stained the front of the painting in several areas. So, these areas were cleaned. Then whatever was left of the stains and all of the blotchiness of Fausett’s retouchings were glazed and toned to blend in better and not be noticeable. We never do retouching in oils for the very reason now noticeable from Fausett’s 1960s work. All of our materials are conservation grade, chemically stable, reversible materials that will be easily removable without damage to the original painting far into the future.

Our varnishes are also conservation grade and have gone through extensive testing to determine their reversibility and removability, color fastness and compatibility with the work of art. They will not yellow and will always be easy to remove.

In the end, we have stabilized the deterioration of the painting, returned it to its best appearance and protected it for many generations into the future… which should help make some more history. I love my job. It feels like my work is socially conscious!

Click on photo to see short video

(1) Utah Division of State History, Markers and Monuments Database – Carbon Tabernacle/Price River Valley

If you would like to know more about our background

in mural restoration, see the other art conservation videos on our YouTube channel at

Scott M. Haskins

805 564 3438 office

faclartdoc@gmail.com

To find out more about Price, Utah go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price,_Utah and http://www.priceutah.net

Link to Art Conservation Lab: http://www.fineartconservationlab.com

If you would like to know more about what you can do to protect and preserve your original family history items, click on this link for a free copy of Scott M. Haskins book Save Your Stuff – Collection Care Tips, 210 pages with 35 embedded how-to videos.

Keywords:

mural restoration consultation, WPA Mural, mural conservation, Scott M. Haskins, art conservation, art restoration, painting conservation, painting restoration, National Register of Historic Sites, Price Utah, Lynn Fausett, Fine Art Conservation Laboratories, Bishop George Frandsen

About Scott Haskins

Scott M. Haskins has been in the field of professional art conservation since 1975. He studied and worked doing mural and painting conservation in Italy until 1979. He headed up the painting conservation laboratory at Brigham Young University for the BYU Permanent Art Collection and the LDS HIstorical Department until 1984. He works from Santa Barbara, CA providing art conservation services nationwide. He is also the author of "How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster."
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