- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

The distorted and deteriorating murals that form a backdrop for the country's most prized documents the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights will be repaired.

Yesterday, the National Archives announced that a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures Historic Preservation Fund will allow the restoration to proceed.

"This award will go a long way in helping to save these important artworks," said John W. Carlin, archivist of the United States, in a prepared statement. "When the Rotunda renovation is complete, these restored murals will once again welcome millions of visitors and help to educate and inspire Americans about the Charters of Freedom."

The mural restoration, which will cost an estimated $3.6 million, is part of the first renovation project for the building that opened in 1935.

The murals decorate the circular walls of the Rotunda exhibition gallery, where the Charters of Freedom are housed in glass cases.

The murals, painted by Barry Faulkner in 1936, depict James Madison presenting the final draft of the Constitution to George Washington and the presentation of the Declaration of Independence to John Hancock. Both pieces each 12 feet high and 35 feet long have deteriorated and buckled, due to humidity, over the years.

"It's the canvas that's popped off the wall … about 30 percent of the mural is off the wall, we've estimated," said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives.

The Exhibition Gallery, on the Constitution Avenue side of the building, will close July 5, 2001, and will reopen sometime in 2003. The research rooms, on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the building, will remain open during the renovation.

The murals will be removed from the wall and transported to a laboratory, where they will be relaxed and flattened, Ms. Cooper said. Varnish will be cleaned from the surface of the murals and some mending will refresh their appearance. A 10-inch-wide, U-shaped cut in the Declaration of Independence mural will be retouched.

"We now have new kinds of techniques" to fix the murals, Ms. Cooper said. "Science has come a long way with preservation techniques."

A wax resin adhesive, applied to the back of the canvas, will act as an interlayer between the canvas and the wall. This added layer will support the mural and facilitate removal in the future.

"I don't think [the mural] will look any different. It will just look better. It will certainly be cleaner and easier to see," Ms. Cooper said. The buckling has caused distortions that make clearly viewing the murals difficult, she said.

The complete renovation plans for the National Archives building will cost an estimated $88 million. The bill for federal funding is pending in Congress. The plan includes new encasements for the priceless original documents and building accessibility for the handicapped.

New heating, air conditioning and ventilation will replace systems that are up to 60 years old.

Planned additions to the building include a conference center, tour center, elevators, snack bar, gift shop and a theater. Some of the building projects, such as the theater and a new permanent exhibit near the Charters of Freedom exhibit will be privately funded.

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