A section of a mural sat propped in a Port Coquitlam basement for five years after its hasty removal from the historic Wild Duck Inn prior to the inns demolition in 2008. The inn, located along the Pitt River, was once a popular hunting and fishing destination. Dating back to 1912, the building had served as a CPR bunkhouse, hunting lodge and, finally, local pub.
The 2 x 4 metre mural section was extensively damaged, but a local cultural group recognized its heritage value. The comedic scene, employing a distinctive 1950s cartoon style, depicts hunters, dogs, ducks and boaters interacting along a marshy shore. Its creator was pub patron and Vancouver artist Peter Carter-Page, a humourist and cartoonist who worked for Disney Studios and The Province newspaper.
Many murals considered to hold heritage value are informal painted scenes decorating special events rooms or public spaces in buildings. Carter-Page painted his mural directly onto one of the Wild Ducks lathe-and-plaster walls. Over the many years of storage, the unsupported detached wall twisted and the mural weakened further. Areas of plaster began to crack and pop out of place. Large gaps appeared where the gypsum and horsehair plaster mixture was not well attached to the lathe base. Dislodged plaster segments crumbled and wedged beneath the plaster, creating fractures and more damage. Holes, nails, material loss, fractured and smashed plaster, broken lathe all contributed to the list of conservation challenges.
Mural detail showing plaster damage and paint losses
A plaster and adhesive slurry was injected between the layers to reattach the plaster to lathe. Loose pieces of the mural were collected, repositioned in jigsaw puzzle fashion and reattached. Large losses were rebuilt using extra plaster remnants in a mosaic technique to re-create the murals original textured surface. Filling and in-painting of losses were kept to a minimum to maintain the murals aged historical character following museum standards.
Addressing several decades of environmental wear-and-tear presented further challenges. Out came the stir plates, beakers, a pH meter and surfactants (specialized detergents) to prepare customized solutions for removing several decades of grime, black fingerprints, grease marks, paint splatters and fungal stains.
As this process showed, conserving and reinstalling a heritage mural involves extensive planning of minute details to ensure the revived piece has structural integrity, fits its new location, and is safely secured as a permanent installation in a public building.
The Wild Duck Inns mural is now displayed in the new Port Coquitlam Heritage Centre with other reminders of local history: Aboriginal masks, archival photographs and artifacts. This past spring, the piece was dedicated during the citys centennial celebration as members of the community and three generations of the artists family looked on. The conservation challenges presented by this project were no laughing matter, but history comes in many forms and humour is this artists legacy.
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