WATERVILLE — Councilors on Tuesday approved spending $4,800 to restore a Waterville Opera House mural, but not before debating whether the work would decrease the mural’s value.

The 4-by-9-foot mural, painted on canvas more than 100 years ago and depicting women, cherubs and floral garlands, was uncovered from the ceiling near the stage during the recent Opera House renovation project.

Research indicated it may have been painted by Mortensen and Holdensen on Boylston Street in Boston, brought to the Opera House and glued to the ceiling, Opera House Executive Director Diane Bryan said shortly after the mural was discovered.

A photo of a show at the Opera House in 1906 shows the mural on the ceiling. The Opera House itself was built in 1902.

“The plan is to put the mural, after it’s been restored, on the mezzanine, off the lobby where that long couch is,” Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, said Tuesday night.

Stubbert said officials determined the mural should not be returned to its original spot in the ceiling, but that perhaps a copy could be placed there. He said the restoration will be done by someone who has done work at Cumston Hall in Monmouth.

“He’s going to restore it and frame it for us,” he said.

But Ward 2 resident Patrick Roy stood to say that restoration would decrease the mural’s value.

“That’s not a piece of fine art,” Stubbert said.

“It’s an antique,” Roy retorted.

Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, said that she has watched a lot of episodes of “Antiques Roadshow,” where experts talk about restoration and how it can decrease the value of artwork.

Mayor Karen Heck suggested having auctioneer and appraiser Jim Julia look at the mural.

City Manager Michael Roy said he, too, watches “Antiques Roadshow,” but the idea is not to try to get money for the mural.

“The mural is not anything that we’re ever going to sell,” he said.

Stubbert said the restoration would focus on removing white paint that concealed the mural when the Opera House ceiling was painted many years ago.

“I very much agree with his assessment of what’s going to be done,” Roy said.

Sharon Corwin, director and chief curator of the Colby College Museum of Art, said Wednesday she does not know any specifics about the Opera House mural, but in general, as works of art age, they are affected by light and other forces, particularly if they are not housed in a carefully controlled environment, she said.

Typically museums charged with caring for collections and objects hire professional conservators to return the art work to its original condition, according to Corwin. She said it is important that issues are addressed in a thoughtful, methodical manner with trained professionals.

“As a practice, it’s very active within the art field,” she said of conservation efforts.

Councilors voted 7-0 to spend the $4,800 for the restoration from $300,000 the council previously approved for Opera House-related projects.

In other matters Tuesday, Heck recognized police for their dedication, professionalism and patience during the city’s pursuit of a site for a new police station. Police provide excellent service to the city, she said.

Police Chief Joseph Massey, Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey and several officers who were on hand received a standing ovation.

Roy and Heck also commended City Clerk Patti Dubois, who was recognized by earlier Tuesday at Maine Town & City Clerks’ Association for outstanding service to the city and association. Dubois also received a standing ovation.

Heck read a document proclaiming Oct. 11 Day of the Girl. She asked people to support and encourage girls to achieve their fullest potential.

She also read a proclamation designating this Saturday, Sept. 22, Maine Suicide Prevention Awareness Day in the city and encouraged people to take part in the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at North Street Park.

Walk founder Teresa Rael, whose son committed suicide in 1995 at 13, spoke about the importance of spreading awareness. Rael teaches courses about suicide, and death and dying, at Kennebec Valley Community College.

Councilors also voted to:

  • Authorize Waterville Development Corp. to market, sell and develop land the city acquired next to Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport known as Airport Industrial Park.
  • Donate a .054-acre city-owned parcel to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. The landlocked parcel is next to the new shelter on Colby Circle.
  • Approve changes to an ordinance regulating licensing and permits, with the changes relating to canvassing and soliciting.
  • Authorize the city to establish a common boundary line between parcels of land owned by the city and John Koons at Quarry Road Recreation Area.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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