Session 5: Mosaics and Contemporary (Rosa Lowinger, Kelly Ciociola and Christina Varvi)

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Session 5 took us on a fascinating journey into the conservation world of mosaics and contemporary materials. The second paper in this session was presented by Kelly Ciociola, Christina Varvi and Rosa Lowinger. Their topic was truly unique which captured the attention of the congress attendees with questions pouring in for the Q&A session. The topic of architectural artworks reminds one of Le Corbusier’s artwork in the buildings he designed, which are so intrinsic to its cultural and aesthetic values!! And, so were the case studies presented in this session. It is interesting to note how many buildings built in the USA between the1940s and 1970s integrated monumental built-in artworks which occasionally had some cultural or heritage value, even if the buildings were not listed properties. Until recently this was the case with even Art Deco buildings and their artworks. However, now there is more awareness about the style and it is better appreciated, considering the UNESCO inscription of the Art Deco ensemble in Mumbai. The speakers delved into the developmental pressures due to which many mid-century buildings have been lost along with their architectural artworks.

Kelly and Christina, acting as the crusaders of these artworks, showed us how they explored different methods and techniques to save the Methodist Hospital Mural, designed by the artist Bruce Hayes – a 96’ x 16’, the “Extending Arms of Christ” mosaic mural made from vitreous and smalti glass. The de-installation and reinstallation of this monumental artwork was interesting; they made cuts using existing design breaks between colors, avoiding any cuts through the faces in the mural and used a custom-made gantry and electric hoist system for easy removal and maneuvering of the mural pieces for relocation.

The Edificio Jose Marti mural designed by artist Fran Williams is a unique artwork, due to its 3-dimensional design and use of common construction materials, which was challenging to document and inventorize. Capacity building of the local community and unskilled laborers was initiated to keep the project cost low. Sadly, even today this mural remains in storage even after its removal, but there are hopes that it will be reinstalled with ease since now it is well documented for prosperity!

The last mural project, “Pleasures at the Beach”, was designed by artist Millard Sheets; it needed extensive surveying including borescope inspection since the attachment of the mural to the building was a genuine mystery. During the Q&A, the presenters fielded queries regarding the type of mapping they did, which as a conservation architect, I was keenly interested in. For instance, they used large scale photo documentation for the Methodist mural (Fig 1,2,3) and made Autocad mapping for the Edificio mural (Fig 2). Seeing the accuracy with which they had worked on the Methodist mural, it is apparent that their work emphasizes on authenticity and integrity of the murals; this was explained in response to a query regarding the modifications of dimensions or adoption to new locations. Keeping in mind the distance at which these murals are viewed, the speakers elaborated upon the due care they take in color matching since even the smallest variation can make a huge difference in the overall scheme.

Regarding a query on the statutory protection of these artworks, the speakers explained that none of these buildings had heritage protection, and hence it is important to note that it’s the community and conservators, like crusaders, who are saving these unique artworks. This presentation was a beacon of hope for many such monumental artworks around the world that are crying out for help.

(Screenshots from “Logistical Challenges in the Relocation of Monumental Modern Architectural Artworks”, by Saranya Dharshini in Session 5.)


Author Byline: 

Saranya Dharshini is a Conservation Architect based in Mumbai, India