Track 3: DELIVERY – INTERVENING INTO HISTORIC PLACES / Volet 3 : Réalisation – Intervenir dans les lieux historiques

An Examination and Condition Assessment of Robert Chanler’s Pool Grotto Ceiling Mural at Vizcaya, Miami

Friday, October 13
10:30 AM - 12:15 PM

Robert Chanler’s exuberant painted and sculpted ceiling of the pool grotto at Vizcaya in Miami is a rare surviving example of the artist’s mural work, and one of just three examples open to the public. Created for James Deering’s winter estate in 1916, it is a fantastical marine scene that has endured a truly adverse environment. The mural’s location just feet from Biscayne Bay leaves it exposed to high levels of humidity and heat, a saline maritime environment, and escalating threats from storm surges. The mural began to exhibit deterioration as early as five years after installation and despite numerous overpaint campaigns meant to restore the ceiling, the work still impresses.

Since no comprehensive documentation of the conditions of Robert Chanler’s ceiling mural at Vizcaya exists, this paper argues that detailed documentation is the strongest course of action to take in its conservation and an essential first step in designing an appropriate conservation plan.

Following protocols established for mural paintings, the condition assessment summarizes prior interventions and investigative studies, records all conditions through on site examination, provides high-quality digital drawings of present conditions, analyzes deterioration products such as salts, summarizes conditions, and analyzes the relationship of those conditions to one another, the original materials, and the environment. Conditions considered include paint loss, the presence of overpaint, the presence of losses of paint and plaster, intralayer plaster separation, corrosion of ferrous reinforcement such as nails and wire, cracking, scars from high water or storm debris, insect nests, and friable paint and plaster.

This paper provides a summary of the state of conservation of the ceiling that includes an in depth conditions assessment and analysis, and is intended to offer a springboard for exploring treatment and alternative methods of interpretation. Options for interpretation are explored and include conservation of remaining material and stabilization as a ruin, pictorial integration of losses, and/or digital representation of what the ceiling likely originally looked like.

Learning Objectives:

Lucy Winona Lily Midelfort

Candidate, Master of Science in Historic Preservation
The University of Pennsylvania

Originally from Charlottesville, Virginia, Lucy Midelfort is a budding architectural conservator with a passion for working with her hands. She graduated in May 2017 with a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, concentrating in Conservation Science. Now, Lucy is working at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) in Natchitoches, Louisiana, researching the effects of climate change on salts in masonry. She is particularly interested in the conservation of cultural heritage that walks the fine line between fine art and architecture (like wall paintings and mosaics), and is also the owner of a handcrafted pottery business, Winona Stone.


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An Examination and Condition Assessment of Robert Chanler’s Pool Grotto Ceiling Mural at Vizcaya, Miami

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