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.”