Preservation of New Deal Murals at Teaneck Library

March 14, 2008

“Library Murals Restored After 70 Years On Walls” By Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer, Teaneck Suburbanite, October 15, 2008

Since 1937, four murals illustrating the history of the printed word have inspired and delighted visitors to the Teaneck Public Library.

The murals are located in the reference room, which was the reading room until the library was renovated and an addition was built in the 1980s. The windows that today face the circulation desk and video collection once opened onto the parking lot.

The murals were painted as WPA (Workers Project Administration) project in 1937 by local artist Robert J. Martin. WPA art projects are found in public buildings throughout the United States, but Teaneck is the only Bergen County library with a permanent display of WPA art.

The four oil painted canvas murals are attached to the walls and depict monks lettering parchments, men working on an early printing press, bookbinders in the 18th century and a (then) contemporary newspaper press.

Teaneck Suburbanite

For 70 years the murals remained virtually untouched. But earlier this year [2008] Puffin Foundation executive Perry and Gladys Rosenstein provided an $11,000 grant to the Teaneck Library to clean and restore them.

The restoration was done in September by John Lippert and Dawn D’Aluisio of Foreground Conservation and Decorative Arts in Hudson, New York.

The pair spent a week working on the murals while they remained on the library walls.

Although LIppert said in an interview that the restoration was fairly simple, the murals were dirty and covered with a grey film. The only damage was a few drops of paint, perhaps from painters who had painted the library’s walls.

“We cleaned the murals with plain water, varnished them, and touched them up with restoration grade paint,” Lippert said.

He noted that it is not uncommon to find grime on murals, usually from cigarette smoke. But there was no evidence of nicotine on the canvas.

“His technique was to draw the outline in charcoal on a white primed canvas and then paint in oil. When we washed the murals off, the water was black from charcoal,” Lippert said.

Lippert has worked as a conservator for more than 20 years and has cleaned and restored hundreds of WPA projects usually in post offices and school auditoriums.

“The Teaneck Library murals relate to the space they are in. They are communicative and are intended to inspire people,” he said.

Martin died in 1971 at age 83 in his home studio at 616 Sketch Place in Ridgefield, where he worked for more than 40 years. During his life, his art was exhibited in major museums throughout the United States. He designed the 14 stained glass memorial windows at the Fort Dix Chapel and worked as a commercial designer and muralist, painting murals for the Empire State Building and theaters and churches in New York City.

***Note from the Library: The library hired the noted conservation company, Alan M. Farancz Painting Conservation Studio, Inc. and Alan M. Farancz oversaw the murals restoration project. It was paid for with an $11,000 grant from Puffin Foundation Ltd. and an $11,000 matching grant from the Teaneck Public Library Thayer Brown endowment fund.

Source: Teaneck Public Library Archive.

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