Leg Hall Reopening to Public, Restoration Under Way for Damaged - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Leg Hall Reopening to Public, Restoration Under Way for Damaged Paintings

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UD art conservators are restoring these paintings damaged in the Leg Hall fire. (Photo: WBOC) UD art conservators are restoring these paintings damaged in the Leg Hall fire. (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - As Delaware's Legislative Hall prepares to open to the public Wednesday for the first time since a fire earlier this month, work is under way to repair paintings and other objects harmed in that fire.

Firefighters said it caused extensive damage to parts of the building. Smoke and water were the biggest issues.

Richard Wolbers, a professor in a joint art conservation program with Winterthur and the University of Delaware, is one of the people working to restore paintings from Leg Hall. It's work that's being done at no cost to the state. Wolbers is repairing an early-1900's painting of John Patten, a major in the American Revolution and a congressman from Dover. It was the painting most damaged in the fire.

"This one is particularly challenging, because there are so many levels to the damage," Wolbers said.

Wolbers says there's blistering, lots of soot and even some color changes. He says the last one is the most serious problem.

"When something through heating has really been changed from one form to another chemically, that something we can't undo, I'm afraid."

"Pit of the stomach feeling is that we do have burnt toast here," said Joyce Hill Stoner, who is also a professor with the conservation program. "I use the analogy of burnt toast when something is burnt beyond retrieval."

Hill Stoner said while the patten painting is in bad shape, others impacted are much more restorable.  She's focusing on a painting of Gov. Charles Terry by famous artist Jamie Wyeth.

"To be absolutely frank, this has more cigarette smoke from the previous days of the legislature when they participants smoked than it does from the fire," she said.

In fact state officials say most of the 160 objects, including around a dozen paintings, taken out of Leg Hall after the fire only suffered minor damage.

Wolbers says restoration projects, especially one as extensive as the patten painting needs, can take months.

"We're still in the testing phase," he said. "We're still evaluating what's possible, what's not possible."

So, it may be a while before these paintings are back where they belong.

The state Senate will be holding a special session Wednesday at Legislative Hall. It's open to the public. The Senate chamber was not impacted by the fire.

State officials say contractors are close to finishing the cleanup process. The air ducts throughout the building have been cleaned to get rid of the smell of smoke. Renovations are still being done in the office of the House Democrats' chief of staff, which was the area most affected.

The Delaware Department of State says none of the affected items have been returned to the hall yet. So, the building will be somewhat empty when the public is let back in.

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