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Breathing New Life into the Hoffbauer Murals at the Virginia Historical Society

Where Are They Now? ,

Posted By Heather A. Widener
Updated: Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program recently wrapped up its sixth year. At this point, the program has garnered over a half million public votes in favor of conservation and has ignited stories in the press throughout the region, and even around the nation and the world. Additionally, we’ve had over 60 honorees and numerous conservation success stories. From descendants of the Rev. Robert Rose, a notable Virginia colonist, learning through a story about Top 10 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that his memorial was in need of conservation at Historic St. John’s Church (and offering to pay for its treatment) to the unlikely story of our program resulting in a Korean tapestry making its way back home to be conserved and placed in its intended home within a Buddhist Temple, each success story is fascinating, inspiring, and unique.

In 2012, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) nominated the Memorial Military Murals by Charles Hoffbauer to the Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program. The murals, which took almost a decade to complete—given the disruption caused by World War I—were commissioned in 1913 to commemorate and interpret the experience of the southern soldier during seasons of hope and eventual defeat. The murals have been subjected to pollution, water damage, and varying levels of restoration technology and expertise throughout the years. The building once had a heating system that was a hand fueled coal furnace, which blackened the murals. In addition, roof troubles caused water damage. Hoffbauer came back in 1937 to restore the murals. They were restored again in the late 1940’s as well as in 1962 by a local artist, Helen Bailey.

Thanks to support from Save America's Treasures, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, important cleaning and conservation work on the murals was completed in June 2014. View a video detailing the Hoffbauer Murals Conservation Process. Additional work to renovate the gallery space began in June 2014 and was completed in May 2015.

VAM staff had the opportunity to join in on a recent walking tour of the murals that included a talk given by Lee Shepard, vice president for collections at the VHS, who was joined by associate curator Beth Fulton and conservator Lorraine Brevig from Richmond Conservation Studio. They discussed the history of the paintings, the restoration planning, and the three years of painstaking work undertaken to rejuvenate this remarkable work of art. The tour brought home the enormity of the task accomplished by these experts, as well as the importance of conserving these artifacts that tell the stories of our heritage.

Today, these colorful, stunning murals are yet another example of what can be done to bring back and save for future generations significant, endangered artifacts that are part of our collective memory and culture. The past six years' worth of Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program honorees are plotted on this map. Consider reaching out to a collecting organization in your area to support artifact conservation, or donate to VAM and support the Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program.

In this video from the Virginia Historical Society, you can learn more about the restoration project's history: