Purpose of Life Mural Art Conservation Treatments Completed… and a twist!


Here you are, the first to know… we have finally finished the painting conservation treatments on the famous The Purpose of Life mural. This iconic painting was widely used, worldwide, as a teaching aid, illustration and artwork. You may have seen the video of how we removed it from the walls of the Hyde Park Chapel in London England before they modified the building in preparation for the Olympics.

What we did to preserve and restore the mural

Once in our lab, we stabilized the condition of the paint layers which were stressed during the removal and the shipping from England. The stabilization process helps to guarantee that paint will not flake in the future and that cracks will not develop.  Any distortions that had formed while being rolled up were relaxed with heat and solvents so the painting lay perfectly flat. The painting was cleaned then any paint losses, damage etc were “inpainted.”

painting restoration

A lesson for you on “inpainting”

Inpainting is a professional art conservation  term that denotes very careful and accurate retouching with small brushes with reversible varnish or water based based colors. We never use oil paint. In fact “retouching” is a rather crude term which insinuates disguising damage but not necessarily accurately. “Repainting” or “overpaint” is still further afield from the careful color-matching inpainting techniques professionals employ. If you hear a professional art conservator use the term “retouching” in front of you, he/she is probably dumbing-down the vocabulary for you thinking you won’t know or understand the correct terms.

An interesting choice to be made

An interesting detail about this mural was the decision of how to remount it to a wall. The choices were to 1) re-adhere it directly back on a wall or 2) adhere it to an aluminum honeycomb (and aircraft industry product) panel that could then be mounted to a wall, or 3) to utilize a fairly new technology of mounting it to a semi stiff thick webbing that could be bolted to a wall. Benefits of this last option would allow the artwork to be unbolted and removed if perhaps the building were to be damaged in a fire or an earthquake or if the painting were desired for a major exhibition someplace else. As you might guess, the last option was the one chosen because of its successful implementation on the murals in the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Grant Clawson

North Visitors Center murals by Harry Anderson and Grant Clawson

About the varnishing

The final varnish layers have UV filters contained in them, will not yellow with time and no matter how long it will be until the next time varnish removal may be required, the varnish will come off easily and without damage to the original paint. The choice of varnish also considers which type will best saturate the original colors and make it look its best. Some synthetic varnishes make paintings look like a poster.

Where is the new home of the mural?

The painting has been delivered to Brigham Young University Idaho where it will eventually be displayed in a prominent location although the exact place has not been decided yet. Therefore, it was rolled up on a large diameter tube for storage where it will wait patiently. We look forward to the installation of this wonderful painting and we look forward to the celebration at the inauguration by the many people who love this image and its message who celebrate its saving from demolition.

Stay tuned for a video of the processes (still to be made). Sign up for blog updates in the side margin.

BYU Idaho final inspection

Gerald Griffin from BYU Idaho doing final inspection of art conservation work with Oriana Montmurro, FACL conservator

But here’s a surprise twist…

While we were working on the art conservation treatments of the mural, I got a phone call one day from a member of the Church in Sacramento California. I was dumbfounded when he told me that while he and his wife were on a mission at the Visitors Center of the Hawaiian Temple, demolition, renovation and updating of the Visitor’s Center took place. And before the work got started he with some help ripped off the wall another mural that is the same as this one, only with Asian people depicted, in an attempt to save it. Its been rolled up in his garage for decades  but as he remembers it, he assumes it was the same size (7’ x 19.5’) and painted by the same artist (Robert Oliver Skemps) about the same time (1964) as the mural in this article! The owner of the artwork isn’t going to use it or wants it but is willing to give it back to the Church. I believe the process of reacquiring the mural is in the process with the History Department but it is not a smooth or speedy process. Of, course, there are many more questions that come to mind that, presently, don’t have answers. But I have volunteered to go up to Sacramento and take possession of the painting which I assume is in terrible condition given the presumably rough removal techniques, being tightly rolled up and stored in a garage. Stay tuned (sign in – in the right margin) and we’ll let you know as the story breaks!

Got a comment? Leave it below…

For an eye witness, on site account of the removal from the Hyde Park Chapel go to: http://fugalmission.blogspot.com/2011/08/mural-in-hyde-park-chapel-and-packing.html

Art conservation questions? Call Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438 faclartdoc@gmail.com

Art appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate 805 895 5121 jrholgate@yahoo.com

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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2 Responses to Purpose of Life Mural Art Conservation Treatments Completed… and a twist!

  1. Jim Pinkoski says:

    For those of you who enjoy the art that Harry Anderson did for the LDS church, you might also enjoy seeing my very extensive website of more than 300+ of Harry Anderson’s “long lost” commercial artwork paintings — go to http://www.HarryAndersonArt.com — you will also find photos of my 1986 visit to Harry’s home and art studio! Jim Pinkoski in TN

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