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Gilberto Guzman's mural at the site of the future Vladem Contemporary museum.

A Santa Fe businessman who hired an art conservator to determine whether artist Gilberto Guzman’s mural in downtown Santa Fe could be preserved has canceled his plan.

Joe Schepps, who runs the Inn on the Alameda, had asked the state Department of Cultural Affairs, which is overseeing construction of the Vladem Contemporary where the mural is located, for permission to have a conservator inspect the mural and determine whether it can be saved.

Schepps said Monday he received word from Nick Schiavo, the department’s deputy secretary, denying his request.

In an email Schiavo sent Schepps on Friday, he wrote “the architectural, construction, and budgetary facts of the situation require the retirement of the mural.”

Among other concerns, Schiavo wrote the wall the mural is on could fall during construction and said it needs shoring up to support a new roof.

Schepps said he is “extremely disappointed” with the news.

“Sadly, it’s my impression a decision has been made about this [mural], and I don’t think it can be reconsidered,” Schepps said.

The news came the same day the art conservator who created the 2018 assessment of Guzman’s mural said she believes it can be preserved.

“From a personal perspective would I like to see it saved? Yes,” Cynthia Lawrence said of the mural, which has been on the east wall of the Halpin Building for more than 40 years.

“As a professional, yes, it can be saved, and I would like to see it preserved,” she said by phone Monday.

The Halpin Building is scheduled to be renovated and turned into the Vladem Contemporary, a modern art branch of the New Mexico Museum of Art.

The decision to remove the mural as part of the construction effort has led to protests, with critics complaining it is yet another example of gentrification and a lack of respect for culture and history.

But time and the elements took their toll on the mural, fading its once brilliant colors and imagery.

Lawrence’s January 2018 report says the mural, first painted around 1980 and then repainted by the artists and others about 10 years later, is in “poor” condition. It notes the impact weather and environmental conditions have had in the formation of cracks in the stucco and paint layers of the mural.

That report also spotlights a number of challenges preservationists would have in attempting to restore the art piece. A proposal to stabilize the “weakened” areas of the mural through the use of resins and UV inhibitors, among other measures, would be “unlikely to provide long-term effectiveness,” the report states.

Lawrence’s analysis also suggests restoring or revitalizing the mural with a team of conservators, the original artists and others, repainting faded images “with the goal of re-creating a mural as close to the original image as possible.”

Denver-based Lawrence, who lived in Santa Fe in the mid-1990s and was familiar with Guzman’s mural, said former state museum Director of Conservation Mark MacKenzie asked her to examine the work and write a report based on a half-day visit to the site in late 2017.

In a follow-up email from Lawrence to MacKenzie in January 2018, she wrote the original 1980 mural could not be conserved in “any significant manner.”

Responding to a question MacKenzie asked her regarding whether the 1990 mural could be restored to look like it did in its first or second year of existence, she said it “cannot.”

On Monday, she said that does not mean the mural cannot be restored in some way.

“Conservators don’t guarantee it’s going to look like it did X number of years ago or they can make the work last forever,” she said.

Though she wrote the mural is in poor condition, she said, “If it were in really good condition, you wouldn’t go to a conservator. You go to a conservator because it’s bad. Many of the things we work on are in really bad condition.

“The point that I said it is in poor condition does not mean it cannot be conserved.”

The mural, long a familiar sight for people passing by on Guadalupe Street, depicts people of different cultures, landmarks of Northern New Mexico and the development of the region.

Lawrence said the fact people are opposed to the end of the mural speaks to its power as a work of art.

“My guess is it still has meaning for the community,” she said. “Murals can show us something from a different perspective. Murals can tell a story, and that story can resonate deeply with people.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(15) comments

Nicole Panter Dailey

Where was everyone for the past 30 plus years when this work was fading, peeling and dying of neglect? Where was everyone who passed by this work daily and did nothing to rescue it, but are now squawking about its demise? Including Mr. Schepps, whose Inn on the Alameda required the barrio to be leveled, if memory serves. The benefit the contemporary museum will bring to New Mexican artists is immeasurable. If you doubt it, go to the main museum and check out the "Alcoves" show that is up right now. The curatorial staff does a fantastic job of showcasing diverse artists from all over the state. Are the naysayers suggesting we deny our community of artists the opportunities the new museum annex will bring them? The screamers seem to think that Santa Fe is the only place in the world that has seen great changes in the last 50 years. It isn't. Depriving the community and artists this fantastic new venue won't do anybody any good. Time to move on.

Stefanie Beninato

Joe Schepps's plea seems a little too little a little too late as did the artist's filing of a lawsuit--all that should have been done in the first six months after the mural decision was made in 2018. I would hope the DCA did photograph the mural since it said it wants to create something about it on the interior. However there is a wall on the southside of the proposed bldg under a covered walkway that would make a good place for a true community mural...It would not be as subject to the elements as this mural is and still visible to the public. Note the conservator has failed to even give an estimate on how much conservation of the mural would cost. That element seems vital in any real discussion.

William Schmitt

Wonderful idea Stephanie. It should be noted that all out door murals in Santa Fe were created as impermanent images and understood to be such by the governments and institutions that paid for them as well as the artists that created them. If this understanding has changed then going forward murals intended to be permanent need to be constructed from more permanent materials such as tile. The mural on the corner of Paseo de Peralta and Guadalupe St depicting the Jaguar and serpent is a good example of this.

Alexander Brown

Lousy start : both Vladem buying their name on the Museum (narcissistic folly) and intransigent Bureaucratic inflexibility to strong Community support for this Mural.

If what goes in this 'museum' reflects this beginning

why bother ?

Perhaps a better name would be SPITE SANTA FE.

Angel Ortiz

Well said![thumbup][thumbup]

Lee Vigil

Spite Santa Fe seems appropriate. It doesn't matter what the people want. We've been swallowing that lump in our throats for decades. There really isn't any push, or ideas, among leadership for economic development, to make everyone, or at least the majority, better off. There've only been pushes for more profitable ways to 'sell Santa Fe', which benefits a few, and leaves the majority out completely, or worse off.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup]

Bobbie Ferrell

Why not use a little innovation and creativity to save the mural? We live in a digital age and after over a year of COVID isolation we're all accustomed to seeing art exhibits, symphonies, dance, readings and more via Zoom. Family gatherings were almost all on Zoom or Face Time. Why don't we find the best photographer who does wide shot photos - think of any airport in the world, where vast replicas of scenery and historic sites (and advertising images) tout the locale. We could get the best possible large photograph of the mural and a team of artists to recreate the colors and images of the historic piece. Go ahead and do what needs to be done to the wall of the building for safety and then replace the mural with a replica of the original. A plaque could explain the history, a photograph of the original, a bio of the artist, and listing the names of the team of artists who create the reproduction. Why not? There may be some funding needed but it seems a much better use of money than we often do. Perhaps the artists would do the work on a volunteer basis. Takers anyone? We've spent at least two years of hand-wringing and being told the mural can't be saved. Why don't we preserve it in a replica and keep our history alive?

Gerald Joyce

A reasoned solution. May I add a fund can be created where those who desperately want to preserve this art can contribute and fund the project.

Lee Vigil

Maybe create a virtual hologram of sorts? Have a permanent room in the new museum display the mural via hologram. A hearkening back to the museum's past, present, and future.

Paul Davis

holograms are for presenting 3D objects. Painted murals are 2D and do not gain anything from presentation as a hologram. With current tech for that, you'd actually quite a lot of visual resolution, in fact.

Lee Vigil

[thumbup]

Lee Vigil

I could see the image adapting well to 3D. It has a train and other images that could adapt quite well to 3D or newer technologies. This is going to be a modern art gallery, yes? Nothing more modern than using the most current technology to create art/images.

Paul Davis

"you'd actually LOSE quite a lot of" ... curses towards this creaking old comment system.

Jarratt Applewhite

[thumbup]‼️👍

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