In 1938, Edward J. Hughes stood before a plastered wall and painted a panoramic scene of explorers examining the shoreline sandstone galleries of Gabriola Island. Years passed and the mural was covered with panelling, hidden from view, and generally forgotten. Eventually redevelopment plans for the Malaspina Hotel, Nanaimo, B.C., included the partial demolition and salvaging of most of the buildings structure. It was during this period that Hughes mural and four other murals were re-discovered.
In 1996, the murals were removed from the hotel and stored in a number of locations for a period of twelve years. Again, it seemed that Hughes painting would be lost to anonymity, as no new display site for this large mural could be found. Eventually in the fall of 2007, the future of this mural was redeemed, and its new location was slated for the recently constructed Nanaimo Conference Centre.
The conservation treatment stage of this project commenced only to find that the murals structure had been damaged and weakened significantly by the conditions of its long-term storage. Consequently, the initially anticipated four-month conservation and installation project extended to encompass more than one-and-a-half years. The mural measures 2.75 5.2 .216 metres (9 x 17 0.71 feet), and it is painted on a concrete wall weighing approximately eight tons. The design for the installation of this mural includes a support base and framework which integrates the mural as a part of the conference building.
The public dedication of E.J. Hughes mural, Captain Malaspina Sketching the Galleries of Gabriola, was celebrated in June 2009. Complimentary events included the screening of a documentary, educational programming, and the launching of a gallery book on Hughes that accompanied a summer long exhibition of his artwork.
The saga of the Malaspina Hotel Murals can offer insight into the fragile presence and future of our cultural heritage, as the Hughes mural project could have disappeared numerable times over the past thirteen years. This successful heritage project was possible due to the efforts and dedication of many individuals, illustrating that we are all guardians of our history. At the core of this cultural project is the artist himself, Edward Hughes, truly a source of enduring inspiration.
A book by Conserv-Arte is underway relating the tale of the E.J. Hughes Mural Conservation Project and the Malaspina Murals.
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