Unique Mural Treatment: Lucy Flower High School

The Lucy Flower High School houses Edward Millman’s 1940 “Outstanding American Women” WPA fresco. The H. 9′ X W. 54′ mural depicts scenes from the lives of Lucy Flower, Grace Abbott, Frances Perkins, Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Clara Barton. In 1941, one year after its completion, the mural was painted over with two layers of paint, one red calcimine layer and one layer of white oil paint. This image details the appearance of the room in 1996 just prior to conservation.

Removal of the overpaint, though, was a delicate process. A series of tests were performed using a poultice paste of sodium hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. A controlled combination of time and material was successful in swelling and removing the non-original overpaint.

Using an alcohol chaser and cotton swabs, the small calcimine particles were removed. Former holes and cracks were filled and retouched to match the original to both value and hue. The treatment was finished in 1997 requiring just over one year to complete. WPA frescoes are very rare and these paintings once again assume their rightful place in Chicago’s mural history.