Mural Restoration in Kingston, Jamaica

Commissioned by the Office of Cultural Heritage of the US State Department

large mural by Dorothea Rockburne at the US Embassy in Kingston JamaicaMural by Dorothea Rockburne

I assembled a team to restore a number of elements involved in a large mural by Dorothea Rockburne. Lights, a barrier, signage, and a stone baseboard needed attention. The project involved several trips to Kingston over the course of three years. The final trip included the artist to inspect and make final changes.

Background

When this embassy was built in 2003, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) commissioned the New York based artist Dorothea Rockburne to create a large mural (approximately 40 feet tall x 20 feet wide) in the embassy’s central atrium.

The mural was installed by Ms. Rockburne’s studio personnel four years later in 2007. The title of the mural is Folded Sky, Homage to Colin Powell (Colin Powell was borne in Jamaica). It is acrylic paint and gold leaf on canvas which is permanently affixed to the concrete wall.

The Problems

original barriers too tall
Old barrier – too tall

The original lighting design in the stone baseboard was immediately found to be inadequate. New lights were installed on the opposite walls, but daylight shadows remained problematic. A barrier was placed by the embassy to prevent employees and visitors from inadvertently brushing against the fragile gold leaf, but the barrier was too large, obscuring the lower section of the mural. Holes in the stone baseboard from the original light fixtures were covered by foam core and painted to match the surrounding stone.

Restoration

Rob Long and Pete Milo from Clear Story Creative, lighting experts out of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, joined our team. They created a new light design, cleaned and adjusted the current lights, added a few more, and installed shades over the third floor windows. Lights and shades were programmed to automatically adjust to three light settings – sunny daylight, cloudy daylight, and night – without needing to be turned on and off by staff. Scaffolding was required so we worked weekends and evenings in order not to disturb the important work of the embassy personnel.

I replaced damaged signage. The embassy staff contracted a local stone mason to replace the baseboard. And a new, museum-quality barrier was chosen by the artist and shipped to Kingston where I installed it.

During these visits the facilities manager of the embassy requested that the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) ‘finish’ the installation of art since many blank walls remained throughout the common areas of the embassy following the original curation by Art in Embassies. During my previous visits and under the guidance of CH Curator Joe Angemi, approximately 40 new artworks were selected by embassy employees from among the FAPE collection and shipped. I installed them during these visits. However, there remained three distinct art label designs throughout the embassy so I initiated the creation of consistent signage and the use of label tape that does not damage walls.

new barrier for mural by Dorothea Rockburne
New barrier

86 new labels were installed using removable and reusable tape that does not damage paint or discolor wood and stone. No artwork in the embassy is missing a new label, and this is now the first embassy with consistent museum-quality labeling.

I also straightened over 120 wall-hangings.

As the project director I worked with FAPE, CH, and the embassy to arrange travel, transportation, security clearance, equipment, and contractors.

The artists was well pleased with the outcome.

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