Thursday, November 03, 2005

Expert Volunteers Redo David Davis Ceiling

There are at least a few people in IHPA willing to look outside the box for solutions when the budget is tight.

Way to go to those who volunteered!

From an IHPA news release ...

BLOOMINGTON, IL – What do you do when the ceiling falls in, and the repair bill will put your budget through the roof? If it’s the 102-year-old painted canvas ceiling at the David Davis Mansion State Historic Site in Bloomington, you let the experts fix it – for free.

“We are overwhelmed by the response from the Bloomington-Normal skilled labor and business community,” said Robert Coomer, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which administers the Davis Mansion. “A mere expression of thanks doesn’t seem enough.”

The saga began July 21, in the middle of the hottest summer in recent memory, at the 1872 vintage David Davis Mansion, one of Bloomington’s most popular historic tourist attractions. A malfunctioning air conditioning unit in the second floor of the Victorian mansion spilled twenty gallons of water that seeped through the floor and saturated the ceiling of the formal parlor below. An original, intricately painted canvas mural adorns the ceiling.

“It couldn’t have picked a worse place to leak,” said Davis Mansion Site Manager Marcia Young. “The canvas collected all of the leaking water and then pulled away from the plaster ceiling. We were absolutely sick when we discovered this one-of-a-kind piece of art sagging water-logged in the middle of the room.”

The estimated cost to repair the ceiling was $30,000. The work requires special knowledge and techniques that are rare and expensive. Unfortunately, the budget to fix the ceiling was in the basement; tight state finances allowed little leeway for repairs of this magnitude.

But the word got out concerning the Mansion’s predicament. Soon, craftspeople and businesses in the Bloomington-Normal area began offering to donate the skilled labor and materials to repair the ceiling. Marc Svensson, owner of the painting and wallcovering business in Bloomington that bears his name, reinstalled the canvas, prepared it for painting, and applied the solid background color that encompasses most of the canvas. Svensson is a graduate of the American School of Paperhanging Arts. Decorative artist Richard Schaad of Normal assembled the restoration team and did the fine-arts repainting of the floral art work in the mural. Mel Wollenschlager, master plasterer from Bloomington, removed and re-plastered the mildewed areas of the plaster substrate. John Svensson, Marc’s brother, and Michael Henning, decorative artist from Normal, assisted with the canvas reinstallation.

Experts from across the country in wallpaper hanging, historic adhesives and other technical crafts, inspired by the local labor and materials donations, offered to provide free advice and guidance so the project would follow approved historic preservation and conservation methods. Mansion officials even received assistance from the man who installs period wallpapers at the White House. “The result is more than just a repair,” said Young. “It’s the accurate and appropriate restoration of a one-of-a-kind, hand-painted piece of art.”

The donated labor and materials did not stop at the ceiling. Associated Constructors of Bloomington donated the painters’ scaffolding and Don Smith Paint and Wallpaper of Bloomington donated the metal bracing system. In addition, employees of a local corporation have donated their personal time to survey the Mansion’s climate control systems and make recommendations for retrofitting and maintenance to prevent leaks from happening in the future. Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 99 is donating the services of skilled craftsmen to repair the moisture-soaked insulation and leaking valves that partly contributed to the problem.

The Davis Mansion canvas, made of hemp and covered with six layers of paint, is a 1903 post-fire replacement of the original 1872 ceiling, a decorative mural painted directly on plaster by St. Louis artist August Becker. Becker’s original artwork can still be seen on the other plaster ceilings of the mansion’s first floor. The 1903 replacement is a 400-square-foot canvas that was glued to the ceiling and then painted in place by a Bloomington painting contractor, C. E. Russell. The decorative design consists of a border of multi-colored stripes with corner floral motifs.

The David Davis Mansion State Historic Site is located at 1000 E. Monroe in Bloomington, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for free public tours. It was built in 1872 for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Davis, a close friend and associate of Abraham Lincoln, and Davis’ wife, Sarah.

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