‘New Deal’ Era Mural at McKinley School, Carefully Restored After Civic Effort Raises $100,000, is Unveiled

Published : Tuesday, June 13, 2017 | 5:16 AM

A mural that has lived on a large wall inside the McKinley School library for 75 years received a much needed restoration after decades of water damage and wear and tear thanks to a community effort which raised $100,000 to conserve this beautiful piece of Pasadena art history.

The giant oil on canvas 16 foot by 40 foot mural, “Modern Education/School Activities”, was painted by artist Frank Tolles Chamberlain in 1942 as a part of a government funded “New Deal” program established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s designed to improve living conditions for those suffering the effects of the Great Depression.

The thoughtful restoration undertaking was made possible by a committee of community members who set out to give a new life to the artwork for another tier of generations to come.

“I am proud of our community for coming together to restore the Chamberlin Mural in the McKinley Library. Alumni, community leaders, neighbors, McKinley families and staff, and community partners made the restoration possible in a short amount of time. As a principal of our school community, it is a joy and a success to say that we had this type of engagement for a piece of art and history,” said McKinley School Principal Charles Heaton.

The McKinley School Mural was completed in 1942, as part of the first federally funded art program in American history: the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP).

The artist, Frank Tolles Chamberlin, chose the McKinley School in Pasadena as a site. After spending time in classrooms, it was Chamberlin’s idea that students would suggest ideas for the mural’s subject matter.

With a typical Southern California landscape as a backdrop, forty-nine students of different backgrounds participate in a number of activities such as chemistry, sculpture, radio transmission, horseback riding and blacksmithing. The mural conveys the artist’s passion and faith in the power of education.

Over the decades, however, natural wear and tear in addition to water damage from a leaking roof threatened to ruin its overall beauty.

“We wanted to be certain that we had someone who would protect and preserve the mural and not decide to make it their own,” explained Claire Bogaard, Chair of the McKinley School Mural Restoration Committee, which raised approximately $100,000 from private donors to pay for the conservators who dedicated four months of tedious restoration work on the aging and damaged mural.

According to Bogaard, the mural was not in a devastated condition, rather major efforts came in the forms of repairing water damage and numerous small tears in the canvas, and an overall cleaning.

The committee hired experienced mural and painting conservators Aneta Zabela and Suzanne Morris to head the delicate process.

Zabela and Morris’ firm has provided conservation and ongoing care of paintings to private collectors, government entities, foundations, universities, and small museums, such as The Sam Francis Foundation, J. Paul Getty Museum, The Getty Conservation Institute, Norton Simon Museum, Huntington Art Galleries and more.

“It was quite a detailed effort and they were here everyday,” explained Bogaard about the four month restoration process which required crews day in and day out.

The newly restored mural was unveiled at a special ceremony last Friday on campus.

“The colors are so much more vibrant. It’s almost like you didn’t know what you were missing until the restoration happened,” explained Pasadena Educational Foundation Executive Director Patrick Conyers.

According to Principal Heaton, the Pasadena Education Foundation and Councilmember Andy Wilson were key players in establishing the restoration committee that raised unprecedented funds for the school school in a short amount of time of approximately one year.

“It is amazing the incredible things we can do when we come together as a community. The McKinley mural restoration project was a case study. It brought together people’s passion for historic preservation education and art. Good projects with committed volunteers and effective leadership really make a difference in improving our city,” said Councilmember Andy Wilson.

The effort also represents the value the community holds for getting involved with Pasadena’s public schools.

“It’s nice for these students to see the community seeing what’s happening in their school as being important and that these people have given up their time and resources to polish something beautiful at their school for themselves and future generations. It sends a wonderful message throughout the community,” explained Conyers.

Members of the McKinley School Mural Restoration Committee included Chair Claire Bogaard, Councilmember Andy Wilson, Brian Biery, Rochelle Branch, Ken Chawkins, Alicia Gorecki, Dianne Magee, Carol Potter, Pam Thyret, Vera Vignes, and Pasadena Heritage.

“We are all pretty excited that it will now be in wonderful shape to last for another fifty years before some other group is going to have to carefully restore and repair,” Bogaard.

“I’m hoping that there will be other opportunities for it to be open to the public because it really is a great treasure that we have in Pasadena and it’s really been well cared for over the years and I’m sure Mckinley will take even better care of it now knowing what a treasure they have.”

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