Historic Cincinnati Art at UC Brought Back to Brilliance
Date: Nov. 29, 2001
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos by Andrew Higley
Archive: General News
The newly renovated Engineering Library at Baldwin Hall is set to reopen in January with a new feature. The room that was once the original library has been turned into a quiet room for study. Its magnificent architecture was touched up with some fresh paint and wood stain, and it will hold stately new furniture that reflects the grandeur of the room when it first had students poring over their books back in 1911.
Completing the work will be the conserved murals, painted by acclaimed Cincinnati artist Frances Wiley Faig and commissioned by the civil engineering class of 1916. Taft Museum of Art chief conservator Mike Ruzga and Helen Mar Parkin, a private conservator in Dallas, spent nearly two years bringing the murals back to their original brilliance, starting back in 1999. New lights will illuminate their splendor. The conservation comes through a generous gift from Jim Morand, professor emeritus of civil engineering and his wife, Diane.
Dorothy Byers, head of the Engineering Library, has been overseeing the renovation of the library as well as the conservation of the murals, which are attached to the walls. She explains the art in the building was the inspiration of Herman Schneider, who became dean of the college in 1906. "I think he felt students needed to not only develop an appreciation for the arts, but also develop an appreciation for the design aspects of it," says Byers.
The Faig murals reveal the marvels of engineering, including the wireless telegraph and what Byers believes to be the suspension bridge in Cincinnati. "This kind of looks like Cincinnati, but not entirely," explains Byers. "She (Frances Faig) is from Cincinnati and we think that's the suspension bridge downtown."
The artist, who lived from 1885-1955, is also remembered in Cincinnati for her murals at Western Hills High School depicting the history of transportation, and her paintings of the Erie Canal at Hartwell School. The artist has eight murals at the latter," says Byers.
Faig's murals made her a widely respected artist in Cincinnati. She studied under distinguished artist Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Art Academy and was married to John T. Faig, professor of mechanical engineering and president from 1918-1951 of the Ohio Mechanics Institute, now the College of Applied Science.
Over the years, time took a toll on the 82-year-old murals. In addition to absorbing decades of grime, the varnish on the murals had taken on a yellowish hue. Conservator Mike Ruzga says he and colleague Helen Mar Parkin got started on the far left mural at the front of the room. "Being closest to the windows for 82 years, it had a substantial grime layer on top. The natural resin varnish layer beneath had also discolored heavily.
"During the initial test cleaning, the mural colors were so bright compared to the layers of grime and discolored varnish that one had to stand one foot away in order not to see simply bright white," he says.
Ruzga adds it took about 45 minutes for him and Parkin to lift the grime from an area that measured 12 by 34 inches, and an additional 45 minutes to remove the varnish from the same area. They were working on a total footage of 7 feet 5 inches by 60 feet.
"They actually had sticks about as big as your little finger with a cotton swab on the end, and they were way up on scaffolding," remembers Byers. Ruzga says the murals are approximately 6 feet off the floor and the scaffolding platform stretched to eight feet. He's now at work on the renovation at the historic Taft Museum of Art.
Byers says the couple who donated the gift to conserve the murals have a rich history at Baldwin Hall and at UC. Jim Morand recalls he and his wife Diane used to meet at the library when they were both UC students. Diane Van Driel Morand earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from the College of Education, and Jim Morand earned his degree in civil engineering in 1960 and his master's degree from UC in 1961 before earning a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.
The couple married in 1960, and Jim Morand took his first appointment to UC as assistant professor of civil engineering in 1964. Decades later, the library continued to be a meeting place and the murals a presence for Jim and Diane Morand, as Jim taught at the college and Diane worked there while pursuing a library certificate from UC. They also formed a fond friendship with library head Dorothy Byers.
"Two or three years ago, we were up on campus and decided to stop by and see Dorothy, and she started telling us about all the plans they had for the library once they started renovating Baldwin Hall," says Jim Morand. "One of the things she mentioned was that she was hoping to get the murals cleaned.
"We came home and talked about it, and Diane and I agreed it would be a nice thing to do because we both had an association with the library."
The Morands got their first look at the renovated room and the cleaned murals on Nov. 26, when a reception was held in their honor.
Both Byers and the Morands remarked on how the conservation also became a learning experience of how artist Frances Faig approached her work. "The conservators could tell which panel she started on, and how she would change things as she proceeded around the room," says Jim Morand. Byers adds that it's believed Faig did not do her painting in the library. "The conservators were looking very closely, and you can see these faint stripes that make it appear like the mural at one time was pulled over a frame of some kind. Once she was finished with a section, she'd bring it in and glue it to the wall."
The UC community will be able to get its own close up look at the murals and their new lighting when the library reopens winter quarter - an example, Byers says, of the preservation of important art and architecture in the history of the city of Cincinnati, as well as the history of the university.