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Karissa Muratore (left) and Amanda Kasman clean the mural that's the centerpiece of the DRBA lobby.
In the lobby of the newly renovated Delaware River and Bay Authority
building near New Castle, Delaware, Amanda Kasman and Karissa Muratore
work diligently, cleaning what is known as the Micarta Mural.
The mural, named for the commercial resin that seals it, shows a map
of the East Coast and is made up of six, 4-by-8-foot panels that stretch
the entire length of the administration buildings lobby.
Kasman, a junior majoring in art conservation at the University of
Delaware, and Muratore, a recent graduate of the program, were hand
selected for this cleaning project.
The two met two summers ago on a UD study-abroad trip to Sardinia,
Italy, where they worked on conservation of pre-Roman statuary. They
spent the next summer cleaning, repairing, inventorying and reinstalling
the contents of a 6-by-3-foot, 18-room dollhouse at Winterthur Museum.
The mural is their third project together.
It definitely helps that we have a similar work ethic, Muratore said of their collaborations. We do our utmost possible.
The Micarta Mural, painted in the mid-1960s by Aurion M. Proctor, had
been in storage for several years. When the Delaware River and Bay
Authority (DRBA) began its lobby redesign project, the idea of using the
mural as a centerpiece came up immediately. The final color scheme of
the lobby, featuring blues and greens, uses the mural as its
We wanted to make [the lobby] a little more colorful and inviting
rather than just a dull government institution, Joseph Gibbons, the
DRBAs director of maintenance and operations, said.
Early in the redesign process, the DRBA contacted the Universitys Department of Art Conservation
to see if a partnership would be possible. Kristin deGhetaldi, who
earned her doctorate in preservation studies last year and is
supervising the mural conservation work, conducted initial tests and
found that the project was suited for students.
When we figured out we didnt have to use noxious and potentially
toxic solvents, we saw that this could be a great project for students
that are involved in the program because we can do this safely and it
can be done carefully, deGhetaldi said.
The mural had not been washed since it was made, so Kasman and
Muratore have been cleaning dirt that accumulated in the years it was
previously displayed as well as what built up during its time in
storage, which deGhetaldi referred to as a superficial tenacious grime
The sealing material allows Kasman and Muratore to clean away the grime without risking damage to the original painting.
In most conservation youre going down to the paint layer itself,
which has a lot of risks, for example removing paint that you cant put
back, Kasman said. It [this project] is satisfying because theres not
that much risk that were actually touching the material that he made.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Amanda Kasman uses a cotton swab and a diluted chelator solution to clean one small section at a time.
To clean the mural Kasman and Muratore use a chelator solution, a
substance that is found in everyday household cleaning products, like
Chelators are a type of chemical that takes metals out of other
substances, Kasman said. So this is taking the metals in dirt and
removing them from the resin layer.
The chelator is diluted in deionized water and then applied to small
spaces on the mural using cotton swabs. Kasman and Muratore will do at
least four passes of an area, sometimes more depending on the level of
grime that has accumulated. They then rinse the area with deionized
Its really simple, which is nice, and it works so well, Muratore said.
Cleaning such small areas at a time has allowed them to feel connected to the mural.
Occasionally I feel like Im seeing little details because were
working so intently over an area, Kasman said. For example, we noticed
that the road near Lancaster was changed and you can see the pencil
line from where it was going somewhere else.
Muratore said they also feel a connection to the artist.
You become aware of all the marks and even what kind of brush hes
using, she said. I can see how many small strokes hes using [and]
where hes made changes. Its just a fun experience.
In the coming weeks they will fill in spots on the mural that chipped
during installation. They use special conservator paints that are water
soluble, so that their work is reversible.
If someone wants to take this out later, they can easily wash this
away without affecting the painting itself, Muratore said. The idea is
to not do any further damage. You want to conserve, not restore.
They will continue to work on the mural for the next couple of weeks.
Because the chemicals they use are not toxic, the public can view the
mural and the cleaning process now underway in the DRBA building,
located at the base of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
Looking at the half cleaned mural, one can really see the change that
the process has made. Kasman and Muratore said that these clear results
have been one of the most rewarding aspects of the project.
When you get a chance to actually do a treatment and get such fun results ... Its really satisfying, Muratore said.
Article by Anne Grae Martin; photos by Evan Krape; video by Jason Hinmon