Making The Murals

Yesterday, Aaron and I decided to visit Richmond, VA. We live only an hour and a half away and had never explored it before. Always up for a spontaneous road trip, we set off at 11am, happily singing along to Juanes in the car. The weather was lovely - sunny, a bit chilly but not too bad at all (I was in a t-shirt and jeans and no jacket in the middle of February!) Perfect road trip weather, I must say! 

Our first stop was the Virginia Historical Society Richmond Museum. There were two cars in the parking area, so we knew we could have the place to ourselves. A sweet old woman greeted us as we walked in, and immediately took us to a side of the museum that was glassed off and had some wall-to-ceiling murals that had been taped up and partly covered. She explained to us that this part of the museum was undergoing some restoration, and then proceeded to tell us that they were 100-year military murals that had been covered by dust, coal, and smoke, as smoking was allowed in buildings back then.  She seemed impressed that the restorers were doing their jobs by cleaning the murals with what looked like Q-tips :) 

Now, a little bit about the murals themselves.  I am taking some bits of the description from the official website of the Virginia Historical Society to stay true to the history. These murals were called The Memorial Military Murals and were painted by Charles Hoffbauer between 1913 and 1920. They were commissioned by the Confederate Memorial Association and Charles began painting them, only to have to leave in the middle of it to fight in World War I for France, his native country. Upon his return from the war as a weary soldier with a firsthand experience of the intricacies and violence of war, he altered his perspective of the paintings and decided to depict the reality of the war. 

The website says this about the paintings: "Hoffbauer's murals were painted directly onto canvas that had been glued to plaster walls. In numerous areas, the paint is not only flaking but also the canvas is detaching from the wall. Dirt, dust, and exhaust fumes from the heating system in place 100 years ago have had almost a century to obscure once bright colors. The brave and anguished faces of soldiers are hardly identifiable under the layers of soot and grime." If you click on the link in this paragraph, it takes you to an interactive page of one of the murals. You can continue to read in more detail of their history and restoration efforts.  You can also learn more about the painter and 'meet' the conservator of these murals.  The sweet old lady also mentioned that during the cleaning process, they uncovered parts of the painting that had been completely covered in dirt that no one knew they existed. 

In a side room, there was a small exhibition of Charles Hoffbauer's sketches as he did his research and then later used his own experiences to create the characters in his paintings.  One interesting note about the painter was that Charles was a renowned painter and late in his career was befriended by Walt Disney and made his entrance in the motion picture industry as a technical adviser and artist. Cool, eh? The theme for his murals was "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy." 

For the first mural, he created about two hundred studies (mini sketches drawn in grids) to help him draw the piece. To help create a realistic view for the picture, he tried parading a column of soldiers past the newly erected Stonewall Jackson monument for inspiration.

We enjoyed learning about this incredible artist and the history that inspired these murals.  I plan to return and see them in all their glory once they are fully restored.  


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