While students from Santa Barbara High School were enjoying their spring break, the school’s Campbell Grant murals underwent their first restoration since 1980 with the help of Patty West and Teen Conlon of South Coast Fine Arts. The murals “depicting the history of the new world” were originally painted by artist Campbell Grant — who attended Santa Barbara School of the Arts — in 1934 as a part of the State Emergency Recovery Administration’s projects during the Great Depression.
Beginning on the morning of March 27, the group was given barely three days to complete the project before the glass casing needed to be replaced late Friday afternoon. In an interview with Patty West regarding the progression of the project, she noted that “everything went smoothly” and that the only difficulty they encountered was that “the scope of the job changed once the glass was off and we could really see the murals. … Some of the old repairs were discolored, and there were several areas where the glue attaching the canvas to the wall had become loose, causing bubbles on the surface.”
The restoration project, sponsored by the Santa Barbara High School Alumni Association, involved more than an extensive cleaning of the paintings and their frames. The canvases themselves were damaged in multiple places from old repair work, and the adhesive holding the canvases to the wall was also failing. “We injected an adhesive into the loose, bubbling areas,” West explained. “Using a small tacking iron, we re-adhered the canvas to the wall … Then using conservation paints, we carefully ‘in-painted’ these losses. Some of the old 1980 repairs were discolored, so we in-painted those areas also. Teen then took on the project of re-staining the outer framing that held the glass so that it more closely matched the original frames that are attached to the paintings themselves.”
During her 33 years of art conservation work, West has worked on many area projects, like the Douglas Parshall mural in Santa Barbara Junior High School’s library, the 4,100-square-foot Mural Room in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse — which is still awaiting funding for its completion — as well as the Channing Peake mural in Santa Barbara’s airport. “A conservator’s hardest job is often to undo bad repairs,” noted West. “Everything must be reversible. In conservation you always want to be able to easily remove any repairs without harming the original artwork.”
With the completion of this project, the Alumni Association is now seeking further funding to begin work on the Barnaby Conrad mural on display in the school’s library.