A historic mural at Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington is undergoing conservation efforts to repair damage from an August 2011 earthquake that left cracks in the work of art.
The expansive 1942 mural, titled “The Meaning of Social Security,” depicts the American experience before and after the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935.
The work, by Lithuanian-born artist Ben Shahn, graces both sides of the corridor in the Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building and features life-like scenes, from Depression-era unemployment, to workers building a home, and farmers harvesting fruit.
The conservation efforts include precision paint and repair work, using modern, reversible materials to stabilize cracks, repair chips, and preserve the mural, which is painted on the walls of the VOA headquarters.
“It is a fairly involved conservation effort,” says David Olin, chief conservator at Olin Conservation of Great Falls, Virginia, the firm contracted by the U.S. General Services Administration to carry out the project that began in June. Olin took part in past maintenance on the mural, including a major conservation effort in 1993.
“We are so fortunate to be able to go to work every day in a building that was literally turned into a work of art,” says VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch. “We hope people will come and see all of the hard work the conservators have done on this project.”
The New Deal-era mural was commissioned by the federal government in 1940 to support and further the arts. The conservators expect to complete the $75,000 restoration project this month. The mural is part of the daily VOA studio tours.
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