Park Avenue Armory Veterans Room

In spring 2016, Foreground Conservation and Decorative Arts finished this year and a half project.  Conserving the painted finishes in the  32′ x 50′ Veterans Room included:
-initial research of the original wallpaper
-removing over paint and darkened varnish on the ceiling beams
-deciphering and recreating the original decoration on the 222 plaster ceiling panels
-uncovering, cleaning and restoring the painted decoration on the cast plaster of the mantelpiece and mezzanine
-cleaning, conserving and restoring the 24 burlap frieze panels

The ceiling had been “restored” in the middle of the 20th century.  A varnish had been applied to the beams, which had darkened.  The original stenciled pewter decoration on the beams had been crudely over painted with aluminum radiator paint. The painted plaster ceiling panels had been repainted to match the dirty and darkened original colors, using stencils that were a crude misrepresentation of the decoration originally intended by Associated Artists.

In a testing phase, Foreground determined cleaning methodologies:
-to remove the darkened varnish on the beams, rendering the grain of the wood beams more legible
-to remove the radiator paint, revealing the original stenciled decoration on the beams
-to expose the original plaster ceiling panel decorations, in order to document the original decoration for the purposes of recreating that decoration on new panels

A mockup phase showed the success of the methodologies we had developed, allowing Herzog & de Meuron, the designing architects, to respond to resulting cleaned surfaces, in order to design and work with Foreground on a strategy for loss compensation.

Through chemical exposures, and through analysis of cross sections, we could see the original chrome yellow base color of the ceiling panels.  Our observations were confirmed when, after removal of a lighting bracket, an unpainted ceiling section was revealed.  This evidence served as a standard for color mixing for in-painting and panel re-creation.

Associated Artists had originally composed panels by combining 2  avian motifs on the large panels at the north end of the room.
The  mid-century “restorers” had traced the original decoration and composed ceiling panels like playing card- they rotated the same motif around a panel. Foreground’s restoration rectified this.
Our exposures revealed a motif that was not incorporated into the mid-century restoration.  The composition was a mystery to us for the entire project.  Only afterward, in consultation with an expert in Japanese art, did we come to understand it represented a Japanese Cloud Dragon holding a pearl.  

Foreground Conservation conserved and restored the painted cast plaster surrounding the mosaic mantelpiece, and at the mezzanine face.  We removed wallpaper on the mezzanine walls to expose the original painted plaster walls, and cleaned and repaired the cast plaster ceiling of the mezzanine.

Foreground de-installed, cleaned, mended, lined to new linen supports, re-stretched and restored the 24 burlap painted panels which rotate around the top of the room at the frieze elevation.
The panel, at top, is before conservation.
The panel, at bottom, is after conservation.
The entire frieze measures 4′ high x 160+’ long