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Picture imperfect: The Normal School building at Lodge and Howard streets in mural form.

Out of the Past

An extensive and expensive restoration process began this week on the first of 14 delapidated illlustrations of the Capital Region’s past at the University at Albany. The project, estimated to take three years and cost $100,000, will be under the direction of Joyce Zucker, a conservator from the Peebels Island Resource Center.

From 1933 to 1946, David Cunningham Lithgow was commissioned to paint one panel each year for the Milne School library as a gift from the graduating class. At the time, students paid for them through holding dances and sales. The Milne School was part of the New York State College for Teachers, which evolved into the University at Albany. The murals still reside in what was the library and is now used as a reading room for the Rockefeller School of Public Affairs and Policy.

In the intervening years, Lithgow’s murals have suffered. Many of the painted canvasses are detaching from their mounting on the walls, seven have cracks, some are simply dirty or faded, and still others have water damage. “Over time the adhesive has defecated, they have dried out and become very brittle, and at the edges particularly the fabric has separated from the wall, almost curling,” says Zucker. They will be restored on an individual basis because “each [of the murals] have their own special needs.”

The first mural undergoing a facelift is Heyward and His Female Companions. The conservators will do all of the work on the paintings “in situ” (that’s conservation-speak for “in the original position or location”). After the surfaces are restored, the “original fabric has to be relaxed and re-adhered with a new adhesive, and then a light pressure will be applied,” Zucker explains.

A group of Milne School alumni contributed enough money to pay for the first mural’s restoration, which in turn will serve as an example to help raise money for the work required for the remaining 13. The mural restoration is part of a larger effort to renovate the original College for Teachers buildings under the $500 million Campaign for the University at Albany.

Locally, Lithgow is responsible for murals in Proctor’s Theater in Troy and on the ceiling of what was the State Bank of Albany (now Fleet Bank on State Street). He also sculpted the Spanish-American War Memorial on Henry Johnson Boulevard.

Murals will be open to viewing today (Thursday, Aug. 14) and tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 15) from 10 AM to noon and 1 to 4 PM at Milne Hall (135 Western Ave., Albany). The restorers will be on hand to answer questions and talk about the project both days from 2 to 4 PM.

—Ashley Hahn


Martin Benjamin

Artists of a Feather

on Monday, 12 artisans from the Capital Region-area Designer Crafts Council flocked to downtown Schenectady to install 100 birds. Under the direction of artist Jane Allan Ingram of Troy (a celebrated sculptor and installation artist), the 12 artists learned how to use poured paper, wire and paint to create colorful birds; they in turn taught the process to another 30 artists. Over a seven-week period, the group worked at 440 State Street, Inc. (an arts center) to make the birds. Then, on Aug. 11, they were installed along funky old Jay Street and on the Proctor’s marquee. The bird project flew into Schenectady after successful sojourns in Cazenovia, Rochester, Ithaca and Lake George.

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