Murals by celebrated regionalist John Steuart Curry are getting exceptional attention on campus, though the public can't tell so far.
Collectively entitled The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research, the painter's 1941-43 works were encased in place, inside a special "jewel box," while the surrounding Biochemistry building, on Henry Mall, was gutted.
The murals recently were given new life by conservators from the Minneapolis-based Midwest Art Conservation Center, which stabilized, cleaned and restored them. Its senior paintings conservator, Joan Gorman, has nothing but praise for the respect paid to the UW's first artist in residence.
"The university made extraordinary efforts to protect the murals during the long construction period at Biochemistry," she says. "The murals were covered with Tyvek, an inert, stable material that allows moisture to pass through, eliminating condensation on the murals. To eliminate the possibility of mechanical damage, ventilated plywood walls were placed in front of all the murals."
A special heating and ventilation system was developed to shield and insulate them. Water pipes were routed away. A dry sprinkler system was installed. For two years, the murals' welfare has been a topic at every biweekly construction meeting.
"The John Steuart Curry mural project is an excellent example of a team effort, different disciplines coming together for a common cause," says Gorman. "The university and the biochemistry department were strongly committed to saving the artwork," which also became a priority for contractors.
"Personally, the Curry mural project has been one of the most interesting, challenging and, ultimately, most satisfying professional experiences of my career," she says.
The building is expected to reopen in late December.