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Courthouse murals regain their luster

Artwork's restoration part of Outagamie County's Administration Building renovation

May 13, 2013
 

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Go to postcrescent.com to watch a video of two Outagamie County murals undergo restoration.

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APPLETON — Two towering murals that adorn the lobby of Outagamie County’s Administration Building have reclaimed their original luster.

The murals, painted by Appleton native Francis Scott Bradford over three months in 1941 and 1942, were a small piece of the county building’s extensive renovation. But officials say the artwork’s restoration was a vital component of the project.

“When you walk in and look at those murals, it really sets you back,” county maintenance supervisor Jerry Wittman said.

The building, commonly referred to as the old courthouse, will reopen June 17. County offices relocated to City Center East along College Avenue to accommodate the renovation to improve the building’s function and infrastructure.

The renovation, however, sought to preserve the building’s 1940s feel, Wittman said.

Ray Noesen, a restoration artist with New Berlin’s Conrad Schmitt Studios, used a two-step process to remove more than 70 years of accumulated grime from the murals. Once cleaned, he used Bradford’s original techniques to restore portions that sustained damage through the decades.

Bradford was born in Appleton in 1898. He studied in Europe and received many public commissions after his return. He maintained studios in Connecticut and New York City.

The two Appleton murals are among a few in the country that use the fresco technique, in which images are painted into wet plaster. It’s the same technique that was used by Michelangelo in his works at the Sistine Chapel.

“You don’t see many of these in the United States at all,” Noesen said.

The murals were commissioned to memorialize the county’s first 100 years. They’re made up of images depicting county life and history amid accompanying lines from the Old Testament and the Apocrypha.

Noesen said he is grateful for the opportunity to revive two key pieces of the Fox Valley’s artistic history.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he said.

— Jim Collar: 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or jcollar@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @JimCollar

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