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Long-lost mural a valuable learning resource

[Mural Conservation]
Master of Art Conservation students assess the condition of a mural that was donated to Queen's after it was found during renovation work at the former bus terminal on Bath Road in Kingston. (University Communications)

A long-lost mural has found new life as a valuable learning resource for students of the Master of Art Conservation program at Queen’s University.

Removed from a wall at the former Kingston bus terminal on Bath Road earlier this year, the massive 3.4-by-1.8-metre oil on canvas mural is now being assessed by the program’s six students.

The piece, created by Canadian artist Kenneth Hensley Holmden (1893-1963), is based on a painting originally created by William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854) entitled Fish Market, Toronto.

The painting was found behind a wall during a renovation project and was donated to the program by the Springer Group of Companies.

While it is a beautiful art piece its true value isn’t measured in dollars. Instead it is the rare opportunity for the program’s students to immerse themselves in the project from start to finish.

“This is going to be a long-term endeavor and we’re also just incredibly grateful to the Springer family for donating the piece because it has been such an exceptional learning experience for us and we’re delighted to have it,” says Amandina Anastassiades, assistant professor of art conservation (artifacts).

Anita Henry, adjunct professor of art conservation (paintings), says that removing a painting from a wall is a rare event.

“I’ve been working now for over 25 years in the field of conservation and I’ve done it twice,” she says. “It doesn’t happen very often, so these students are incredibly lucky to have been able to do that.”

Patrick Gauthier, a second-year art conservation student is excited to be working on such a complex project as part of his ongoing studies. Not only is the mural large, it also offers a wide range of challenges for conservators.

“What we’re actually doing right now is the condition report. We’re assessing all the layers of the painting. We’re starting with the canvas and then we’re examining the ground, the preparation layer, the paint surface and the varnish surface,” he explains. “If there is some dirt on it we’ll document it as well. We’ll document the losses, how the painting is made, how it aged and how it has deteriorated. That will give us ammunition for further treatments.”

After being rediscovered, the mural drew a significant amount of interest from the Kingston community with many people recalling it from their visits to the bus terminal restaurant.

As a result, the mural will be open for viewing during the Art Conservation Open House being held Saturday from 1-3 pm as part of Homecoming weekend. Visitors will be able to check out the program’s facilities at 15 Bader Lane and view the treatment and science labs where students learn to conserve paintings, works of art on paper, and objects of archeological, historic and ethnographic origins. All are welcome!

Queen's University offers the only Master of Art Conservation program in Canada. Students specialize in the conservation of paintings, artifacts or paper objects or carry out research in conservation science.