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Artists Restore Depression-Era Image In Paoli Post Office Lobby
Updated May 5, 2013 1:09 AM
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(PAOLI) - Artists from an art conservation firm in Chicago have cleaned and restored the Depression-era mural on the south wall of the Paoli post office lobby.

Roger Moon of the Times-Mail reports that visitors to the post office can see not only a more vibrant image on the lobby's wall, but, throughout this month, can also see an art exhibit called "Local Treasure: Indiana's Post Office Murals." The exhibit was created by the Indiana Historical Society and is on loan to Saving Historic Orange County.

The effort to get the Paoli post office mural cleaned was led by SHOC.

Terry Cornwell, the organization's president, said the work came at the suggestion of Edward Powell, who now lives in Paoli, but taught at the University of Pittsburgh Studio Arts Department from 1970 through 2006.

Cornwell suggested that while a casual observer might not have realized the mural was in need of cleaning, that need became obvious. "There was no question when they were doing the cleaning process," Cornwell said. He explained that the artists briefly left a section in the center uncleaned, in the interest of illustrating the before and after contrast. "It was amazing the difference the cleaning process made," Cornwell said.
Powell, in moving to Paoli after his retirement, was settling where his wife Janet had grown up. Upon visiting the post office, he took notice of the mural's condition.

"I thought it would really benefit from being cleaned," Powell said. "I started planting that seed." He talked to representatives of SHOC. "They were interested because that's the kind of project they like to pursue," Powell said.

Contact was established with Dallan Wordekemper, a federal preservation officer in Washington, D.C., to assure the project would receive his blessing. "I emailed him and sort of exchanged some ideas," Powell said.

Wordekemper wrote in an email to Powell, "This work of art is a valued treasure of the United States Postal Service, and I want to personally thank you and the community for the interest that you share in the maintenance of this piece."

The government used to pay for such art restoration efforts, but the funding for doing that has dried up. "It needed to be a community-based movement, so we went from there."

Work on the mural was made possible through two grants awarded through the Orange County Community Foundation. The foundation's Unrestricted Fund and its Directors Legacy Fund provided $2,100 in April. Then, in September, the Orange County Commissioners Supporting Organization awarded a $2,200 grant. Those grants, combined with a $500 anonymous contribution, allowed SHOC to move forward.
SHOC learned about Parma Conservation, which has conserved more than 200 historic murals across the United States. At the time Parma was approached bout doing the work in Paoli, some of its artists were working at the Capitol Building in Washington.
SHOC, in its research about the Paoli mural, determined it had been cleaned in the 1980s.

Powell said the woman who cleaned it at that time is still with Parma, and he spoke with her. She explained that "dirt, grime and residue" had accumulated during the years. For decades, use of tobacco was common in public places and smoking is regarded as one of the culprits leading to the decline in the mural's vibrancy.

"That has a tendency to cling to walls and that kind of textured surface the mural is painted on," Powell said.

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