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Wisconsin artist restores history at courthouse

December 23, 2011

Auglaize County Commissioners, at left, look at the Civil War mural, which was uncovered in the law library during renovations. Artist Michael Blanck, at right, will be restoring the mural during renovations.

As county administrators walk through the Auglaize County Courthouse, they mention how pleased they are with the renovations to the century-old building.
The Auglaize County commissioners and Administrator Joe Lenhart toured the courthouse on Thursday during their monthly walk-through, expressing to representatives from Garmann-Miller & Associates of how happy they are with the way things are going.
“The most interesting thing of this project are the different stages,” Auglaize County Administrator Joe Lenhart said. “It’s interesting to see the phases of work in the same building.”
In the basement of the courthouse, dry wall is up and in the process of painting, and in the upper levels, electrical work is being done. Each level of the building is in a different phase, as different trades work on each room.
“It’s really coming together,” Commissioner Don Regula said.
Each artwork and design in the courthouse is carefully being restored, and Wisconsin-based artist, Michael Blanck, of Blanck Studios, is a huge part of those improvements.
With the help of Christopher Rohrer, of Brian Brothers Painting and Restoration, a Piqua-based company, who is prepping the walls for the artwork and design, Blanck is painting the design on the borders of the rooms, the courthouse tower and the murals.
“We want to restore it as close to historic as possible,” Rohrer said.
Employees with Brian Brothers Painting and Restoration have been teaming up with Blanck and working on various jobs in the area, including area churches, along with the courthouse to restore buildings to their original beauty.
Blanck, who studied studio art, has been in town since September, and said he is scheduled to have all of his job duties done by April.
“Starting in January, I’ll be working 12-hour days,” Blanck said. “We live, eat and sleep in these things (buildings) while working.”
While Blanck is restoring the artwork and design in the courthouse, he said he has to work around the other trades, as they all get their job duties done.
Currently, he is painting the border in the Common Pleas Courtroom, along with restoring the designs in the tower.
He created a 60-inch pattern that will repeat every 60 inches in the courtroom.
This stencil pattern will run around the border of the room and include hues of brown and yellow, which will be almost identical to the original pattern that was in the room.
When Blanck restores designs and artwork, he takes samples of the paint chips, and then matches up that sample to a color of paint he has so it can be as close to the original as he can make it.
The pattern he is working on now is thought to date back to the 1940s to 1960s, and during this time it was popular to have one color and “run with it.”
“My job is to bring together the old world with the new world,” Blanck said.
While using a neutral palate, Blanck is working with many variations of pale pinks, yellows and browns, along with gold.
“Everything was hand-painted,” Blanck said of the original artists. “They didn’t use much stencil back then.”
In addition, the original painters used artistic oil, which is harder to get off of the wall.
“The hardest part is working on a scaffold tower,” Blanck said. “There’s not much light.”
So when he is working up in the tower, he goes up and paints, then he has to come back down to ground level and see how he did. Then then climbs back up the scaffolding and either fixes what he was working on or continues on the next portion.
Blanck’s timeline includes focusing on the higher items, such as the borders and tower, and then he will focus on the five murals, including the one which was recently uncovered in the former law library.
The former law library and a courtroom, where the Civil War mural is, will be opened up and turned into one large Municipal Courtroom when the courthouse reopens.
The Civil War mural is thought to have been done in the 1920s or 1930s and Blanck said that once he is done restoring the mural, it will be much brighter.
Commissioner John Bergman said that restoring the history of the courthouse is an important thing to do.
“It all brings back the natural beauty of the building.”

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