By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When the doors open at Colman Pool for its 75th-anniversary season next summer, be sure to look up as you walk in.
The 6′ x 13′ mural over the reception window in the lobby is getting some TLC right now, following the end of the 2015 season for the city-owned outdoor, saltwater pool on the shore of Point Williams at Lincoln Park.
We stopped in earlier this week to talk with Peter Malarkey, the conservator who is cleaning and repairing the mural for what might be the first time in its three-quarters of a century:
The mural was painted by Ernest Norling for the pool’s completion and dedication on July 4th, 1941.
Malarkey, who cleans and restores privately owned paintings as well as public artwork like this, says he’s seen worse – but still, here’s proof of what he’d removed in the first few days:
Since the pool is only open to the public a few months a year, and there are no other sources of “emissions” to contribute to the grime, that’s likely why it’s in what Malarkey terms “surprisingly good shape.” You have to look hard to see the spots he’s repairing – a few nicks and scratches, one long line of “graphite” that he suspects might have been caused by someone with a pencil. A few spatters, too.
And then, a protective coat of varnish will go over the entire mural – not too glossy, so it doesn’t detract from the art itself, “as invisible as possible,” says Malarkey. “It’s meant to be panels of color, not a lush oil painting.”
Talking about the mural restoration led to a discussion of the mural itself, which reflects many aspects of the time, and the interests of Laurence Colman, for whom the pool is named. You can read about the mural, titled “American Youth and Freedom,” on interpretive signage in the lobby (which has other items of interest, even an old-fashioned phone booth):
We discussed the mural’s style – which Malarkey sees as a reflection of American Regionalism, and the so-called “American Scene” painters. He has another term for it – “late ‘Public Deco’.” The mural, he observes, “clearly responds to the building,” including its curves
Back to Peter Malarkey’s work as a conservator. “All the materials I will use are reversible,” he said. His work is “to influence the painting as little as possible” – everything is soluble in case at some point it needs to be removed. “Reversibility” is important in the kind of work he does. When you see the mural again next year, “the fresher colors will give you a chance to look at (Norling’s) work again, the way he intended it to look.”
Malarkey expects to be done by the middle of next week. Of the project (publicly and privately funded, for an estimated total of $15,000), he says, “It’s good of Parks and the city to be taking care of this – it shows a lot of dedication to the building (and its history). It’s an example of a wise investment in the city’s culture.”
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