At a pace of six square inches at a time, the artwork in the dome of the Sully County Courthouse is emerging from more than a century of grime.
Bryon Roesselet and Emanuel Fritz of Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. have been working since January 3 to reveal and restore the more-than-century-old art.
The artwork is comprised of four murals depicting scenes of early life in Sully County and the flora and fauna of the area. Each mural is bound by a trompe l'oeil frame, painted to trick the eye into perceiving the detail as a three-dimensional object. “I was surprised to find the color pink in the frame detail,” said Bryon.
With more than thirty years of restoration experience, Bryon says that he expected to uncover the decorative leafy frond detail between the frames. “They wouldn’t have had the pictures flare like that and not put something between them.”
In earlier attempts to preserve the artwork and the paint that was cracking as the canvas pulled away from the plaster, varnish was applied. “The murals already needed to be cleaned, and they put varnish on top of that,” said Bryon. “And they did it again, putting another layer of varnish on without cleaning the art.” Since it did not address the underlying problems, applying varnish to the paintings almost did more harm than good.
“All the preservation we’re doing is designed to be reversible,” said Bryon. Where the damage has penetrated the paintings, lightweight canvas will be applied to the back to stabilize it.
Pointing out areas where the plaster needs repair, Bryon says that it’s in surprisingly good shape. A studio plasterer will be arriving soon to make the needed repairs.
The stained glass centerpiece of the dome has been removed to the Conrad Schmitt Studios for restoration.