New Ulm’s greatest treasure
By Fritz Busch
NEW ULM – A $23,140 Legacy Grant project that will conserve and stabilize historic murals at Turner Hall started Wednesday.
Conservators Bryon Roesselet and Brad Stewart of New York City-based Evergreene Architectural Arts, Inc. began chipping away damaged plaster, removing layers of varnish yellowed from tobacco smoke, cleaning surfaces and removing inappropriate repairs.
The murals date back to the late 1800s.
“I’m finding a lot of the original mural that was covered up by paint and layers of plaster,” said Roesselet, who lives near Boyd, Wis. and is a St. Olaf College graduate. “We’ll use what’s left as a guide for what’s missing. This is about what we expected to find. Varnish gets darker over time, stained by nicotine. You’ve got to break a few eggs to make omelets.”
Roesselet said by removing layers of old varnish, he found the mural’s horizon, a flag on top of a castle, among other things.
Stewart, who lives in Indianapolis, Ind., glued plaster that had separated from the wall with an acrylic polymer to prevent it from disintegrating and re-adhere it to the wall. The mural project is scheduled to last three weeks.
“What they uncovered in just the first day was surprising and impressive,” said Turner Hall Manager Virginia Suker Moldan.
The murals date back more than a century ago when the Conrad Schmitt Studio of Milwaukee completed the murals.
As the building was being completed in the 1870s, the New Ulm Turners hired actress Marie Methua-Scheller to perform in local productions. Her husband Guido Methua, who painted theatrical scenery in New York City, painted the walls of the new building wing.
In later years, local artists Christian Heller, Anton Gag, and Carl Pfaender completed more Turner Hall artwork.
The Rathskeller has been in near constant use throughout the building’s history. It is believed to be the oldest continuously-operating bar in Minnesota.
Daniel Hoisington, who wrote the project grant application, told the Minnesota Historical Society’s Historic Resources Advisory Committee “The murals are one of New Ulm’s greatest treasures, directly linking the city to its German heritage,” Hoisington wrote. “These 19th-century murals are nationally significant. Turner Hall is practicing good stewardship, beginning with a conservation plan, followed by careful implementation.”
Prior to coming to New Ulm, Roesselet and Stewart worked on state capitol renovation project in Illinois that began last October.
The Turner Hall renovation project will also improve exterior grading to improve water drainage.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).