Restored murals retake place in church

Published 1:43 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

Two murals in Clanton First United Methodist Church were restored this spring, including this one depicting Jesus with Mary Magdalene following the Resurrection. (ADVERTISER PHOTOS / JUSTIN AVERETTE)

One of the signs of a true work of art is if it can stand the test of time. Years can pass, yet the art itself still gathers attention as the decades roll by.

Such is the case with the murals that hang on the walls of the First United Methodist Church in Clanton. Painted in 1923 and 1926 by C.V. Malmede, the murals sit on either side of the pulpit, each inside a notch in the wall. Both murals depict a different moment in Jesus’ ministry, and they are surrounded by tromp l’oeil (which translates “to fool the eye” in French) frames that are painted on to the walls.

But, as is the case with all art, the murals accumulated dust and age, dimming their pictures. So much so, that the church’s Board of Trustees decided in mid-2011 that restoration was a must.

“It came to the attention of the trustees that something needed to be done,” said Gail Sharman, who spearheaded the effort. “We were afraid it would get worse and worse.”

The second mural shows Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well as told in the Gospel of John.

So, Sharman contacted the Atlanta Art Conservation Center about restoring the murals.

“Everything fell into place,” she said. “I contacted the Birmingham Museum of Art and they directed me to the Atlanta Art Conservation center.”

The Center’s Larry Shutts was commissioned to restore the murals, examining them in July, and appraising them in November.

Sharman said some of the things Shutts found surprised her.

“He said that one had coal dust stains still from where the church was once heated by a coal stove,” she said. “He also found a water stream stain from where the [ceiling] had leaked on it.”

Crews from the Atlanta Art Conservation Center begin taking down the mural for cleaning back in February.

Shutts took the murals back to Atlanta for restoration where he cleaned them and placed facing material on the front and back of each. He then returned the murals to the church, where he cleaned and prepped the walls behind them to help adhesion.

The results, according to Sharman, were remarkable.

“They hadn’t been cleaned in 75 years,” she said. “They were 12-15 shades lighter. Jesus’ robe was muted, now it appeared bright.”

Once in place, the murals were dedicated Easter weekend of 2012.

Along with the quality of work, another thing that Sharman expressed amazement about was how much support the entire church gave.

“All funds ($23,000) were given through donations and memorials,” she said. “The congregation really stepped up to the plate. It was a group effort; so many people worked and helped out.”

The restored murals were dedicated back on Easter weekend in April.

Sharman also said there was one church member in particular who appreciated the restoration.

“Mary Chism, who turned 99 in November, watched C.V. Malmede paint the original murals as a girl,” she said. “She got to sit on the scaffold and watch him.”

While she appreciates the contemporary services and ways of worship, Sharman said she was appreciative of the respect the tradition of the murals received.

“Growth is great,” she said, laughing. “but we need to keep [some] old things intact.”