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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/12/2011

Work continues at the site of Haiti's famed cathedral

By Jacqueline Trescott

The international effort in Haiti to recover cultural materials continues as the country marks the first anniversary of the horrific earthquake.

One of the landmarks destroyed on Jan. 12, 2010 by the magnitude 7 earthquake was the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The church in Port-au-Prince crumbled, along with its famed organ.

Almost miraculously, three of 14 historic murals survived enough to be studied and preserved for future use.

The murals, finished in 1951 by the leading artists of the day, were both controversial and celebrated at the time but ended up being part of the country's important cultural treasures. The work depicted New Testament stories, incorporating all the skin shades of Haitian people and symbols.

Heading up this arduous work is a team working for the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project, spearheaded by the Smithsonian Institution.

This week Rosa Lowinger and Viviana Dominguez, conservators from Los Angeles, who are working for the Smithsonian, will accelerate their study of the remaining murals. Stephanie Hornbeck, a former conservator at the National Museum of African Art, is overseeing the Smithsonian team.

"A lot of preparatory work has been done as far as the material testing. The Smithsonian and the Getty tested samples and egg tempera is the medium," said Hornbeck, the project's chief conservator. The conservators also tested the consolidants and a facing material, and now are ready to begin dismantling the large murals.

"Beginning next week, they will take them down in sections. We had to have long chisels made for the work. We are removing the preparatory layer and the painting layer," Hornbeck said. The long chisels will follow the existing crack lines.

Hornbeck said the work will take 6-8 weeks.

The mural survivors are "Native Street Procession" by Prefete Dufaut, "Baptism of Our Lord" by Castera Bazile and "The Last Supper by the Nativity" by Philome Obin.

The future of the murals will be decided when a new cathedral is built.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | January 12, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Jacqueline Trescott, Smithsonian  | Tags:  Haiti, Haitian earthquake, Smithsonian Institution, famous murals in Haiti, preservation of Haitian murals  
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