Out in the middle of nowhere in Butch Cassidy’s and the Sundance Kid’s country in South Central Utah surrounded by dinosaur bones and red earth table top landscape, there is an old coal mining town with a surprisingly good quality WPA mural.
Its like an old movie, walking along the WPA artwork that is 4' high and 200' feet long that shows the settling of this area of the Old West. Renown artist, Lynn Faucett, a native of Price, Utah was just the right person in 1938 to pull together the history of his country.
During the Depression of the pre-war 1930’s, the Works Projects Administration funded a municipal building in Price that was the perfect place for his talents and vision for the mural. He formulated this historical rendering of his town for the mural based on photos, entries in archives and his own personal experiences. Within this loooong mural, there are dozens of wonderful, smaller pictures that make up the composition.
Today, we look back at the Old West's history thinking that it was romantic and full of folklore, novels, movies etc. But back then, Faucett had lived this life, been in these buildings and knew these people. This mural is an authentic historical record of actual people (whose names are written below their portraits), buildings, customs and the process of taming the Wild West. The mural is a documentation of the pioneer settlers, the beginnings of society in the newly constructed town and the development of the area and its industries.
35 years ago my painting conservation career in the USA (I studied and started working in Italy) started in Utah and I’ve known Lynn Faucett’s painting style, having worked on the restoration of his paintings previously and looked at many others. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t previously impressed with his painting style compared to the other Utah Impressionists that came before him.
When I first saw this mural, I was surprised... this mural may have been the masterpiece of his early career. The faces were very well done and reflect feeling and expressions that were quite realistic.
This mural was considered so well done and so historical that it was a main reason why the entire WPA funded building was added to the US Register of Historic Properties, a considerable honor... but then something happened...
Faucett was employeed to “touch up” the murals in the 1960s and, as is almost always the case, artists don’t respect the qualities of the earlier work and has to change or update it. This happened on this mural when Faucett repainted most of the faces and much of the composition. The result was a change in style and, in my opinion, a reduction in the quality of the mural.
The result of Faucett’s repainting in oil, today, is a blotchy discoloration of the retouchings as they have aged at a different rate than the original mural. This is especially noticeable in the sky. Touch up of the seams of the canvas glued to the wall are discolored as are many other details.
Entrance lobby to City Hall for Price, Utah with the panorama murals by Lynn Faucett 1938-1941
It is presumed also that he varnished the murals, and likely didn’t clean them first. So, a gray layer is trapped. Then add to that the following 40+ years of grime deposited on the surface and that brings us to today’s appearance: considerably muted, flattened depth of field and contrast in the composition and an overall grayish appearance.
Fine Art Conservation Laboratories is honored to have been called and entrusted with the health and art restoration of this historical mural, so important to the City of Price and to the area. We removed the last 40+ years of grime which brightened the painting considerably, without risk to the paint layers. However, we were hesitant to remove the old varnish as, according to preliminary tests, it would be hard to remove without damage to the original paint and would result in disturbing the retouchings that Faucett put on the mural in the 60’s thereby opening the proverbial “can of worms” during the cleaning and causing a real mess, even seriously damaging the mural.
Water damage infiltrations have occurred in the last years that have stained the front of the painting in several areas. So, these areas were cleaned. Then whatever was left of the stains and all of the blotchyness of Faucett’s retouchings were glazed and toned to blend in better and not be noticeable. We never do retouching in oils for the very reason now noticeable from Faucett’s 1960’s work. All of our materials are conservation grade, chemically stable, reversible materials that will be easily removable without damage to the original painting far into the future.
Our varnishes are also conservation grade and have gone through extensive testing to determine their reversibility and removability, color fastness and compatibility with the work of art. They will not yellow and will always be easy to remove.
In the end, we have stabilized the deterioration of the painting, returned it to it’s best appearance and protected it for many generations into the future... which should help make some more history. I love my job. It feels like my work is socially conscious! Here is a short video about the mural’s restoration process: Click on the picture
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