New Deal era mural restored in Ladd's Addition school
Following six weeks of work, six swabbed-off layers of paint and about $40,000 worth of restoration efforts, the public is finally getting its first glimpse of a long-obscured mural.
"A Pageant of Oregon History" by the artist Erich Lamade was white-washed away in approximately 1960 — two decades after the mural was completed in 1940 inside the former library of Abernethy Elementary School, located at 2421 S.E. Orange Avenue in Portland.
The linear, chronological frieze in Ladd's Addition depicts the practices of the native people of Oregon and their interactions with early settlers and merchants such as Jason Lee and John McLoughlin. A final scene shows the timber and shipbuilding industries that established Portland as a major city during World War II.
"It's absolutely an unprecedented recovery of a piece of cultural heritage," said lead conservator Nina Olsson. "This was hidden in plain sight."
With its yellow background color and flattened perspective, the wraparound wall painting wouldn't seem too out of place in King Tut's tomb. But the project was actually funded by the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal.
A team of four from the Heritage Conservation Group first sleuthed out the location of the mural using black-and-white photographs, then conducted a scientific analysis to determine the right solvents to remove each layer of paint, many of which were minty "institutional" shades.
The painstaking work was done with Q-tips and other tools. Very little repainting was required in the room, which now houses fourth and fifth graders, except where a TV had once been bolted to the wall.
The mural disappeared after former superintendent Robert Blanchard embarked on an ambitious project to spruce up the Portland Public Schools district, which he felt looked "dingy."
"The color-neutral woodwork seemed outdated for the Atomic Era aesthetic of the 1960s, which wanted everything chrome, blue and white," explained Olsson.
So far, just the sections of the mural on two walls have been revealed — and current plans call for the Heritage Conservation Group to tackle the west wall in 2019 and the northeast wall in 2020.
Olsson also envisions restoring the classroom's slate chalkboards, cork board, double-hung windows and pendant-style lighting in order to recover the original context of the mural. While grants have covered some of the work, the total cost may reach $200,000.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful for the kids and the community," remarked school board member Paul Anthony during the Monday, Aug. 6 unveiling, "so vote yes for the bond!"
You can donate to a crowdfunding campaign here.
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