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Posts Tagged ‘restored’

Lost Mary Pickford film found in barn, restored

Their First Misunderstanding, a 1911 Independent Moving Picture Co. (IMP) short starring Mary Pickford in her first fully credited film appearance, will make its second debut more than a century after its first at a special screening on October 11th at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. It’s a milestone in Mary Pickford’s rise to global superstardom and in the development of the very concept of a movie star. This is the first picture in which she was credited as Mary Pickford rather than “Little Mary.”

Pickford had been working since 1909 for D. W. Griffith’s Biograph Company, cranking out a nickelodeon a week. Although Biograph never listed its actors’ names in the credits, a standard practice in the early days of the industry, Mary was soon very popular with audiences. Movie theater owners tapped into her popularity and advertised her presence in a film describing her as “The Girl with the Golden Curls,” among other nicknames.

She was just 18 years old when she left Biograph to join pioneering film producer Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Pictures Company. Laemmle was instrumental in the birth of what would become the Hollywood star system, hiring away the most popular actors from companies where their work was uncredited and giving them marquee billing. He also perpetrated the first fake star death PR hoax in 1910 when he spread around the rumor that Florence Lawrence had been run over by a streetcar in New York City, only to later unveil with great fanfare that she was not dead, but rather shooting the upcoming IMP picture The Broken Oath, soon in theaters near you!

Laemmle poached Mary Pickford from Biograph just as he had Florence Lawrence: by guaranteeing her name billing. Mary also was allowed an impressive amount of control over her IMP pictures. She wrote the screenplay for Their First Misunderstanding and cast her newlywed husband Owen Moore as the newlywed husband in the film. The director is thought to have been the soon-to-be legendary Thomas Ince who also makes a brief appearance in the film.

Like many of the silent pictures from the 1910s and 20s, Their First Misunderstanding was lost, with no known copies in existence for decades. That changed in 2006 when contractor Peter Massie found seven reels of old nitrate film, empty film canisters and a 1934 Monarch silent film projector on the second floor of a barn in Nelson, New Hampshire. Massie was looking through the barn before tearing it down when he hit on this magical little jackpot. Being a film buff, he took the reels and projector home.

Massie contacted Larry Benaquist, founder of Keene State’s film program, to alert him to the finds. Benaquist thinks the films were in the barn because there were several summer camps in Nelson, including a boys camp near the barn in the 1920s. He believes the shorts were shown to the boys on movie night and then tossed in a corner and forgotten. It’s astonishing that the reels and the barn survived. Nitrate film is highly flammable and so are barns.

Last year Benaquist sent two of the nitrate reels which were stuck together to Colorlab, a Maryland company that specializes in restoring volatile nitrate film. They were able to separate the two and identify them: Their First Misunderstanding, and the 1910 Biograph film The Unchanging Sea which also stars Mary Pickford and of which there are plenty of extant copies.

The Library of Congress, which has largest collection of movies by Mary Pickford, funded the restoration, to the tune of an estimated $9,000. It is money well spent. Despite having been stuck to another film and left in the open in a barn for nigh on a century, almost the entire picture has been restored. There are a few spots with missing frames where the action skips, but it doesn’t impede understanding. The restored film is considered complete.

You’ll have to head to New Hampshire on October 11th with $5 in hand to view the entire film. Here’s a clip from the restored Their First Misunderstanding to tide you over. The picture quality is mind-blowing for any 100-year-old film, even more mind-blowing when you consider it was stuck in unhealthy gelatinous co-dependence with The Unchanging Sea for decades.


WPA mural at Cedar Rapids City Hall restored

Decades after it was painted over twice, a Depression-era mural on the wall of the City Council chamber in Cedar Rapids’ City Hall has been restored to its former splendor. Scott Haskins, Chief Mural Conservator for Fine Arts Conservation Laboratories, and two assistants spent weeks removing five layers of paint covering the mural and retouching the damaged areas. The city worked repaired plaster on the walls, raised the ceiling height to ensure the entire mural would be visible and installed new lighting to showcase the historic art work. The total cost of the project was about $125,000 ($87,940 of that for the mural restoration alone) funded by the city and by matching funds from donors.

The newly restored mural is one of four painted in 1936 and 1937 by Harry Donald Jones and other Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists in what was then a federal courtroom. The murals were commissioned under the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), a Treasury Department program that allocated funds from the WPA to decorate existing and new federal buildings. It allowed buildings that had no room in their budget for art to prettify their walls while at the same time giving work to unemployed but highly skilled artists. The vast majority of TRAP artists (90% at first, 75% later) were drawn from the relief rolls.

Harry Donald Jones was a midwestern native, born in Indiana and working in Iowa until he joined the Navy in 1941. He was the head of the WPA for the city of Des Moines and led several teams of artists commissioned to paint murals in Iowa public buildings. Jones and his colleagues were young visionaries who favored progressive political statements about the strength of workers, the progress of industry and agriculture, historical injustice towards Native Americans and other potentially touchy subjects. Once the 50s rolled around, those statements weren’t exactly popular. Only one of them managed to survive the decade without getting painted over: The Social History of Des Moines, a Jones fresco in the Des Moines Public Library. The library board had voted to paint it over, but wealthy local art patrons protested and saved the work.

No patrons of the arts could intervene when the federal judge whose courtroom was decorated with the four murals, a cycle called Law and Culture, decided to get rid of them all. Apparently it was one particular image that caused the most trouble. The Evolution of Justice scene, part of the American Civilization mural on the east wall, depicted a man with a noose around his neck sitting on a horse. This image represented frontier justice while the rest of the mural welcomed the arrival of American judicial system. The soon-to-be-hanged man was on the wall right across from the jury box. In 1951, Judge Thomas Graven ordered them painted over because he was sick of hearing complaints about it and because, as he told the Gazette newspaper, it was giving him “moral turpitude.”

Ten years later someone chose moral turpitude over staring at a white wall, reportedly motivated by regret at the loss of the historic art works, and the overpaint was removed. Unfortunately the whitewash was stripped by city workers instead of art conservation specialists and the harsh cleansers damaged the original paint of the murals. They remained on view for three years until in 1964, Judge Edward McManus ordered the murals painted over again in response to yet more complaints.

This sad track record was put permanently in the past after the flood of 2008. The federal government gave the Beaux Arts building to the city of Cedar Rapids on the condition that all four murals in the cycle be restored and preserved. The first mural on the north wall was restored in 2011. Painted by Iowa native Francis Robert White, it’s called the Opening of the Midwest and depicts the suffering of Native Americans, the arrival of the settlers, the struggles of industrial workers and farmers.

It took some time to raise the money to work on the second mural, a piece called Inherited Culture by Harry Jones himself which depicts men unearthing artifacts from pre-Columbian civilizations ranging from Maya pyramids to the pottery and crafts of southwestern tribes. Watch restorer Scott Haskins reveal the murals underneath the layers in this neat video:

See the retouching and the restored mural in this video:

Cedar Rapids is now raising funds to do the same for the third mural, the American Civilization piece with the infamous frontier justice scene, hopefully by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the City Council chamber is open to visitors during the business day, so anyone can go and see the two murals that are already restored.


120-year-old London Underground carriage restored

On Saturday, January 10th, 1863, London’s Metropolitan Railway line carried its first public passengers over six kilometers (3.7 miles) and from Paddington through five intermediate stations to Farringdon Street. It was the world’s first subway system and it was an immediate success, transporting 40,000 people that first day and 9.5 million the first year. These early subway cars weren’t like the ones we have today, but rather wooden carriages divided into compartments that were pulled by steam engines. They were literally underground trains.

Next month will be the 150th anniversary of the first passenger voyage of what would become known as the Tube and the London Transport Museum will be celebrating the event by running a series of restored trains along that first route from Paddington to Farringdon, now part of the Circle Line. The trains and cars used in 1863 have not survived, but other beauties from the steam era have. After extensive restoration funded by the museum, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donations, Metropolitan Steam Locomotive No. 1, built in 1898 and Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage Number 353, built in 1892, will return steam-powered mass transit to the London Underground.

Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage Number 353 is the only survivor of 59 carriages that ran along the Circle Line in the last 15 years of underground steam rail. They were named Jubilee carriages because the model was first introduced in 1887 during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Made out of teak wood with gas lighting and gold leaf accents, these were elegant first class carriages. Less than 20 years after the first carriages were produced, they were rendered obsolete when the Metropolitan Railway switched from steam to electric power in 1905.

When the private Metropolitan Railway and Underground Electric Railways Company of London merged with city tram and bus services to become the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, the Met Loco 1 steam engine was renumbered, repainted and used sporadically as part of London Transport’s above ground services. It was retired in 1963 after which it was purchased by the Quainton Railway Society (now the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre) and loaned to various museums and for special events over the years. In 2010, its boiler certificate expired which meant it could no longer run without a complete rehaul and re-certification. A complete restoration began in 2011 with the aim of returning Met Loco 1 to full steam running conditions in time for the 150th anniversary.

Jubilee Carriage Number 353 survived in a far more reduced circumstances. In 1940 it was purchased and moved to Knapps dairy farm in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, where it was used as a garden shed. For 34 years it stayed on the farm, open to the elements. A toilet was attached to the end of it at some point. In 1974 the dairy farm was slated for redevelopment and the carriage was in danger of being destroyed. London Transport bought it for its historical value, adding it to its underground relics collection. It was in surprisingly good shape structurally, despite its hard scrabble post-war existence, and several ideas were considered about what to with it, including cutting out a section to put it on display. Thankfully Number 353 was kept whole and safe until 2011, when funds were raised to restore it too so it could be reenlisted into service 150 years after the first carriages ran underground.

After 15 months of painstaking work by Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway, specialists in heritage railway carriage restorations, Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage Number 353 is back to her former splendor. A team of masters and apprentices did the work, the apprentices a condition of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant to ensure that these skills are passed down to the next generation. Number 353 has been rail tested and runs like a charm. She is now officially the oldest operational subway carriage still known to survive.

Met Loco 1 and Carriage 353 will be recreating the first underground journey on Sunday, January 13th, 2013. For more pictures of the restoration of Number 353, see the museum’s Flickr set. There’s a smaller but still cool set documenting the overhaul of Met Loco 1 here. If you’d like some delicious and nutritious information along with those picture sets, the museum’s blog has a nice entry about the underground testing of the locomotive and lots of entries about the carriage as it was being restored.

Here’s video of the carriage during the 15 months of restoration:


Peru’s “Sistine Chapel” restored to former splendor

Facade of San Pedro Apóstol de AndahuaylillasThe church San Pedro Apóstol was built by Jesuits between 1570 and 1606 over an Inca huaca (sacred space) in the small Andean town of Andahuaylillas 25 miles west of Cuzco. The Jesuits had arrived in Peru just two years earlier, in 1568, and promptly set about building churches and schools in the remote towns and villages which the Dominicans who arrived with Pizarro in 1532 had not reached. San Pedro Apóstol’s architecture is simple: one nave, one apse, a bell tower, in whitewashed adobe and brick construction with a modest mural on the second story balcony of the facade. On the inside, however, is an explosion of colors, saints, allegories, gold leaf, geometric and floral designs which has rightfully earned it the nickname “the Sistine Chapel of the Andes.” There’s hardly an unpainted spot to be found from baseboard to ceiling.

Interior of San Pedro ApóstolAlthough Jesuits oversaw the decoration of the church, over the decades they enlisted teams of highly skilled indigenous artists and some famous names like Diego Quispe Tito, scion of a noble Inca family and leader of the Cuzco School of painting, and the Lima-born, Italian-taught Spanish painter Luis de Reaño who in 1629 created murals at the entrance depicting the roads to Heaven and Hell in Mannerist style. Canvases of scenes from the life of St. Peter are set in massive gold frames along the walls.

Ceiling detail of San Pedro ApóstolAmidst the traditional Christian figures of saints, the walls and ceilings of the church are filled with Andean flowers, fruits and geometric patterns. The coffered ceiling of the vestry was not made out of wood, but through a pre-Columbian technique called kur-kur that combines cane, straw, and mud to create a surface that looks like wooden beams in some angles and like undulating fabric in others. The kur-kur ceiling was then painted in the polychrome Mudéjar style, an Iberian style heavily influenced by Islamic art in use in Spain between the 12th and 16th centuries. The indigenous artists altered it to include far more florals along with the Moorish rhombuses, squares and large central octagonal star in keeping with the local aesthetic. Gold leaf accent pieces are scattered throughout.

San Pedro's gilded altarpiece, solar lamb at the topElements of traditional religion are also included in the decor, a syncretism that played an evangelical role since it smoothed over the rough edges of conversion from the Inca deities to the Christian ones. For example, in the Annunciation painted above the choir the Holy Spirit is represented not by a dove, but by a hole in the wall. The sun shining through the hole brings the Inca sun god Inti into the church even as it symbolizes the third divine person of the Trinity.

The sun also tops the massive Baroque altarpiece, carved out of cedar then covered with gold leaf, silver leaf and Venetian mirrors. A solar disc with a painting of the lamb of Christ in the middle and 19 gold rays shining out from it rules over all the painted and carved saints and the carved Assumption of Mary.

Door of the five languagesThe imagery isn’t the only mechanism of conversion. Above the font in the baptistery is the “puerta de las cinco lenguas” (door of the five languages), which is inscribed with phrase, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” translated into five languages: Latin, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara and Puquina. The last of these is extinct today, which makes the inscription even more historically significant.

Conservator at work in 2009The many beauties of San Pedro Apóstol de Andahuaylillas were in serious danger from earthquake damage, previous restorations that had replaced some of the adobe and caused structural problems, roof leaks, insect infestation and bat poop. In 2008, the World Monuments Fund stepped into the breach, planning and funding a three-year conservation plan to restore the walls, roof, ceiling and paintings. It was a big job, and the restorers took no short cuts.

A large part of the project focused on stabilizing the murals, all of which are executed in tempera, with conservators opting to use organic materials such as liquids extracted from cacti over man-made chemicals. Many murals had been repainted and conservators had to strip back multiple layers of paint to reach the original composition. For example, the “Road to Hell” mural "Road to Hell" mural by Luis de Reañohad four layers that needed to be removed. Instead of trying to recreate lost murals, conservators chose to paint these areas in a light colour. A 17th-century ceramic pot containing ochre pigment and a wooden brush was discovered during the project, shedding further light on the materials used by the artists.

When it came to the decorative ceiling made from mud and straw—traditional construction materials in the region—conservators were faced with removing one metric tonne of bat droppings in the space between the roof and the ceiling. Structural issues such as the replacement of adobe were also addressed, and all of the church’s sculptures, as well as its altars, received treatment.

As of October 31st, the conservation of the church is complete. Thinking ahead, the WMF also created a youth heritage program to involve the community’s young people in the process, teaching them valuable skills while motivating them to protect their town’s cultural heritage in the future.

Separate from the WMF project, the two organs in the church were also restored. The Gospel Organ (also known as the Saint Cecilia organ) and the Epistle Organ (also known as the King David organ) were installed between 1606 and 1610 and later decorated by Luis de Reaño. In desperately poor condition after centuries of exposure to moisture, they were both restored by the French organ builder Jean François Dupont in 2007 and 2008 and are now back in full fettle. Here they are being played by Norberto Broggini in videos which happily include some great shots of the glorious ceiling and walls.


Earliest films shot in natural color digitally restored

In 1899, British photographer Edward Raymond Turner and his financier Frederick Lee patented a process for making natural color moving pictures. Color was seen in film from the very beginning. The Annabelle Serpentine Dance was filmed in Edison’s Black Maria Studios in 1895, but it was hand-tinted after the film was shot. At least three inventors had patented natural color processes before him, but Turner’s system was the first that led to a working model.

Turner had worked for still photographers since he was 15 years old. Ten years later in 1898, he worked as an assistant to photographic pioneer Frederic Eugene Ives on his newly-invented Kromskop (pronounced “chrome scope”) color still photography system. Ives’ method involved taking three black-and-white photographs on a single glass plate through red, green and blue filters. When viewed through the Kromskop device’s color filters and mirrored surfaces, those three pictures would combine into one brilliantly colored image. Ives sold prepared sets of pictures called Kromgrams for viewing through a Kromskop. These were immensely popular for Victorian audiences in Britain and the US, especially the stereoscopic model which showed the pictures in 3D as well as color. You can see some beautiful examples of Kromgrams of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake in this post.

While assisting Ives, Turner worked simultaneously on a way to take moving pictures using the three-filter additive process. What he came up with a camera that had a rotating wheel with sections of red, green and blue filters placed in front of the lens. This would record a frame of film three successive times, one in each color. Since the subjects were in motion, each frame was slightly different from the next.

The patent was the easy part. The hard part was making a working a model which would record the film and then a projector that could do the work of the Kromskop on moving pictures. After two years of failures and with money running out, in 1901 Lee and Turner went to American film producer Charles Urban who financed continuing development and enlisted engineer and camera inventor Alfred Darling to help make theory reality.

Darling built a camera that used 38mm film to record moving pictures through Turner’s filter system. They filmed a variety of test subjects — Turner’s three children playing with sunflowers in their back yard, his daughter Agnes on a swing, a goldfish in a bowl, a scarlet macaw, the Brighton pier, a street scene of Knightsbridge in London.

In 1902, Darling built a projector that would play films recorded using the Turner and Lee process. It had a speed of 48 frames per second (much faster than most black-and-white films which ran at 16 frames per second) and a lens that superimposed the red, blue and green frames simultaneously onto the screen. A rotating filter wheel behind the lens applied the proper filter color to each frame. Unfortunately, it didn’t work in practice. The timing of the rotating filters had to be exact relative to the speed of the film and the distance from the screen precisely calibrated or else the results were painfully blurry and unwatchable. They kept working on it until Edward Turner died suddenly of a massive heart attack in his workshop on March 9th, 1903. He was 29 years old.

Urban still thought the process had potential, so he brought in his associate George Albert Smith, a pioneering filmmaker and inventor, to keep developing it. Smith kept slogging at it for a while, then realized if he abandoned the blue, the remaining red and green would produce respectable color pictures with much less trouble. G.A. Smith patented the two-color system in 1906 calling it Kinemacolor. Kinemacolor cameras used rotating red and green filters to record alternating frames which were then projected through two-color filters. Here are two of G. A. Smith’s early films using the Kinemacolor process. He chose his subjects — Tartans of Scottish Clans (1906) and Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs (1908) — wisely to be particularly flush with reds and greens.

Smith’s system was successful for five years. At its peak, 300 theaters in Britain had Kinemacolor projectors installed. Smith was sued for patent infringement by William Friese-Greene in 1914 who had patented a red-green system of his called Biocolour before Smith. Friese-Greene won and put Smith out of the film business for good.

In 1937, Charles Urban donated his collection of films, including the Lee & Turner test films, to the London Science Museum. Four years ago the collection was transferred to the National Media Museum where it was kept in storage until Curator of Cinematography Michael Harvey found it languishing there and decided to see if modern technology could make Turner’s colors come alive.

The first obstacle was the non-standard 38mm film size. In order to scan the frames, experts first had to create a custom gate — a devise that holds film in projectors — that would isolate a frame. They would center a frame of film in the gate, place it into an optical printer, scan the frame, and then start again with the next frame. It was a painstaking process, centering the film to ensure it’s in exactly the same position as the frame before; they topped out at 26 frames per hour.

Once the frames were scanned, the digital file was sent to Prime Focus, a special effects, conversion and restoration company, which used digital editing software to put the proper red, green or blue filter over each frame. Turner lent a hand from the grave, since he had noted which frames were which colors in the margin of the film. They used the exact process as described in the patent: that is, filter frames 1, 2 and 3, and combine them, then frames 4, 5 and 6, and combine them, etc.

Finally, they found themselves watching Edwardian color movies.

The Lee and Turner films, the recording and projecting equipment are now on display at the National Media Museum in Bradford.


African Queen restored and bearing a Bogart again

The restored African QueenLast December, Captain Lance and Suzanne Holmquist announced that they would restore the African Queen and put her back to work doing inland water tours. After three and a half months of work and almost $70,000, the 30-foot riverboat used in the iconic 1951 John Huston movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn is officially back in business.

The steamship, built in England in 1912 then used by the British East Africa Railway Company to carry cargo and passengers in the Belgian Congo and Uganda, had been deteriorating in dry dock for ten years. Her previous owner, Jim Hendricks Sr., had rescued from her a land bound horse farm in Ocala, Florida in 1982, then used her for tours and took her around the world twice for special events. Once Jim Sr. died in 2002, the boat passed to his son Jim who unfortunately could not afford to maintain her as his father had.

Captain Lance and Suzanne Holmquist on the QueenThe Holmquists could see the Queen sitting forlorn on her dock as they operated their charter boat business. Captain Lance, who has a passion for restoring boats, noticed that even decrepit in dry dock the African Queen was still a hugely popular stop for tourists. Hundreds of people would come every day to take her picture. So they struck a deal with Mr. Hendricks: they’d restore the boat as historically accurately as possible, and in return Jim would lease them the Queen to use for charter tours.

The restoration was challenging, but not as hard as some of the other restorations Captain Holmquist has done. The African Queen was still structurally sturdy. First they had to fix the hull. Made from 10-gauge British steel, most of it had toughed out the tough times. Only 20% of the steel panels were corroded enough to need replacing, but that 20% took three weeks of welding to fix. Watch this YouTube video to see the welders, and their commanding officer/Chihuahua, Stewart “The Killer” Kipp, in action.

Also salvageable was much of the original black African mahogany used for flooring and siding. The Holmquists just had to oil and condition it. For historical authenticity and ambiance, they decided to spend $26,000 to install a new steam boiler even though during the shooting of the film the boat wasn’t actually powered by steam; they just made it look like it was. Last up was a new paint job, which lasted just a few hours before Captain Holmquist took a rag and some brown paint and messed it up so it would look like it looked chugging through the jungle with Bogie and Hepburn.

“We wanted it to look beat up, like it appeared [in the Congo] in World War I,” said Suzanne Holmquist. “It’s starting to get its sheen back, and its authentic look.”

The African Queen will be officially relaunched Thursday. The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce is throwing her a party and fundraiser dockside at the Holiday Inn Key Largo. Stephen Bogart, son of Humphrey and Lauren Bacall, will be there. The first ride on the Queen with Stephen Bogart will be auctioned off at the event, as will the original steel pieces from the hull that were replaced. The party is open to the public; the suggested donation is $15.

Starting at the end of the month, the African Queen will be taking passengers on two-hour canal cruises several times a day, and for six-passenger dinner cruises around Key Largo on select evenings. She will also be available for private charters. See her back on the water and hear her lovely bell in this video.


Hume’s Edinburgh mausoleum restored

When Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume died in 1776, his friend, famous architect Robert Adam, designed a mausoleum for him in the Old Calton Burying Ground in Edinburgh in keeping with Hume’s last wishes. Shortly before his death, Hume had written in his will: “I also ordain that, if I shall dye any where in Scotland, I shall be bury’d in a private manner in the Gallon Church Yard [aka Calton graveyard], the South Side of it, and a Monument be built over my Body at an Expence not exceeding a hundred Pounds, with an Inscription containing only my Name with the Year of my Birth and Death, leaving it to Posterity to add the Rest.”

His request would be fulfilled, although later additions and alterations would mar the dignified simplicity of Hume’s vision. Before his monument could be built, however, the great Skeptic and Empiricist, had to be buried in the plot he had secured for himself in Calton. The placid, even cheerful death (here’s how economist and friend Adam Smith described Hume’s final days in a letter to Hume’s literary executor, William Strahan) of so prominent an irreligious figure drew a great deal of public attention. Crowds assembled outside his house waiting to hear if he would change his mind about the improbability of an afterlife once death came a-knockin’.

After his burial, his friends stood guard at the grave site, pistols cocked and torches aloft, for eight days and nights to ensure Hume’s grave would not be desecrated or interfered with. It’s said that some of the curious hid behind gravestones to see if the Devil himself would come and spirit away the man James Boswell dubbed “the Great Infidel.” (Boswell, famous biographer of Samuel Johnson, had spoken to Hume just over a month before his death and had been shocked by his equanimity. Johnson insisted to Boswell that Hume must have been faking it. Boswell got drunk and had sex with a number of prostitutes, as was his wont when under stress. A lot of people were deeply invested in how Hume reacted to his impending death.)

By 1778, Adam’s vision of Roman-inspired cylindrical mausoleum much like those found on the Appia Antica, complete with pre-fab decay, had been construction over Hume’s burial spot and an adjacent lot bought by the philosopher’s brother John. Robert Adam used unpolished masonry and rough ashlar to convey the impression of classical antiquity. Over the doorway was the simple inscription Hume had requested: “DAVID HUME, NATUS APRIL. 26. 1711. OBIIT AUGUST 25. 1776″ At some point before 1813, for reasons lost in the mists of time, someone replaced the Latin “NATUS” with “BORN” and “OBIIT” with “DIED.”

After that, some more wording was added even less in keeping with Hume’s vision. Hume’s nephew, a famous jurist also named David Hume, erected a memorial to his wife Jane Alder after her death in 1816. Her name was inscribed on funerary urn in a niche about the door and captioned with:

“Behold I come quickly
Thanks be to GOD which
giveth us the victory, through

Somewhere between then and 1820 yet another inscription was added just below the tablet, this one noting that the tomb was “Erected in Memory of Him/ in 1778″ because by then the mausoleum had become something of a family vault, so its original purpose needed reiterating. During the mid-19th century, a metalwork cross was erected on a plinth above the keystone. The date 1841 is inscribed on it, perhaps indicating when the cross was added, perhaps in memoriam of Hume’s nephew David who had died in 1838. The cross was gone by the 1880s.

With Adam’s incorporating decay into the original design, plus all the later activity, plus the passage of time, Hume’s mausoleum was in dire need of cleaning and maintenance. The City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh World Heritage, plus a of private donors, pulled together to sponsor a proper conservation of the mausoleum this year, the 300th anniversary of Hume’s birth.

Conservators focused on clearing vegetation and mortar pointing to replace crumbling mortar with fresh, durable lime. Particular attention was paid to the decorative elements on the cornice, architrave, and frieze around the top of the structure.

A spokesman for Edinburgh World Heritage said: “The Hume mausoleum is of great importance to the city and Scotland. Designed by the famous architect Robert Adam to commemorate the nation’s foremost philosopher, it neatly encapsulates Edinburgh’s history as a city at the heart of the Enlightenment. This sort of conservation work is essential to keep the building in good order for the future, and to encourage more people to appreciate the value of the city’s historic graveyards.”

This was accomplished for the bargain price of £5,000 ($7864). Spend a little now so you don’t have to spend a lot later.


Dunkirk Ship to be Restored

In 1940, the British army had been pushed to the French coast, before the attacking Nazi forces stopped. This gave Britain time to organise a remarkable evacuation, remarkable because it included a thousand craft of any size which could cross the English Channel to take troops. I didn’t think many of these would still be around, but this BBC article explains how ‘Dorian’, a thirteen metre wooden vessel, is being restored in time for the 75th anniversary commemorations. It also introduced me to the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust, who explained “Ten years ago, 69 ‘little ships’ went to Dunkirk but last year there were only 49 so it is vital that we continue to restore as many as we can.”

New York Public Library facade restored to gleaming

The New York Public Library turns 100 years old this year, and now that a three year, $50 million dollar restoration is complete, it can celebrate in gleaming high style.

NYPL facade before (above) and after (below)

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was completed in 1911, and was instantly lauded as a Beaux Arts masterpiece and an emblem of American populism. What would have been a fit abode for royalty in Europe in the United States was a library, a public palace open to all. New York City is hard on marble, though, and over the years the facade began to deteriorate, more so than people realized until conservators assessed the structure before restoration began.

A survey of the building’s condition by [architectural firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates] in preparation for the Centennial revealed severe deterioration and soiling of the façade, particularly in areas such as the Corinthian column capitals, lion head keystones and scroll modillions. The survey also revealed roof damage, severe oxidization of the building’s bronze doors and window casings, and cracking, surface loss and other problems with the sculptures, including the six colossal figures by Paul Wayland Bartlett over the columns, and the two fountains by sculptor Frederick MacMonnies, who also carved the Washington Square Park Arch and the Nathan Hale statue in City Hall Park.

Actual restoration began in 2008. Repairs included installing over 2,000 individually carved marble stones – called dutchmen – to replace damaged pieces of the façade. These replaced elements – such as the noses and chins of the lion head keystones – were carved by Master Stone Carver Shi-Hia Chen of B & H Art-In-Architecture Limited. All of the sculptures – originally carved by a series of famous artists – were repaired under the watchful eye of Mark Rabinowitz at Conservation Solutions, the fine art conservation consultant.

All told, over 7,000 instances of deterioration in the 150,000-square-foot façade were repaired, including 1,000 cracks sealed, 900 marble balustrades repaired, 350 bronze windows restored, as were the roof and the bronze doors. The Vermont marble of the entire façade was cleaned, using 200 gallons of concentrated soap. As NYPL President Paul LeClerc puts it, now it “gleams like an alabaster palace.”

NYPL window before NYPL window after NYPL pediment sculpture before NYPL pediment sculpture after

For those of you as obsessed with before and after pictures as I, you’ll enjoy the NYPL Facebook picture gallery of the restoration.

Also, here’s video of the ribbon-cutting ceremony including a fascinating description of the restoration process by architect Tim Allanbrook of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. That starts at the 6:50 mark and is not to be missed.