Successful Restoration of WPA Mural at Chapman Elementary School in Portland
By Rosie Platt
The entrance foyer of Portland’s Chapman Elementary has been graced with the work of Aimee Spencer Gorham since 1938, when the large format wood marquetry mural titled Send Us Forth to be Builders of a Better World was installed. Aimee Gorham is best known for her work at the Timberline Lodge, the largest and most ambitious New Deal project of the area, where two of her pieces grace the walls of that temple to rustic regionalism. Under WPA programs, Gorham produced murals for Oregon State University’s School of Forestry, numerous Portland Public schools, regional art centers in Oregon, and for the New York World’s Fair in 1939. She established a workshop of furniture makers from Timberline Lodge that executed her designs into the 1950s.
Almost 80 years of accumulated soiling, wear, and vandalism had obscured the exquisite and glowing figural effects of the wood grains in the mural. In 2015, a former Chapman parent and art enthusiast, Martha Connell, brought the idea of the restoration project to the attention of the PTA President, Rosie Platt. The project was adopted as a priority by the PTA and Chapman administration. The true historic value of this art piece was relatively underappreciated and educating students, families, and the community on the cultural and historical importance of this public works piece became a priority.
We began writing grants and fundraising for the restoration project and were generously awarded funding for the project. An educational workshop was held at Chapman’s annual event called the Art Ball which was attended by over 300 people. Students and families had the opportunity to learn about the WPA, the artist, and even made their very own marquetry project. Thanks to generous grants, including the State of Oregon’s Heritage Grant, the Juan Young Trust, the Autzen Foundation, and donations from the Chapman community, we were able to restore the mural over the summer of 2016. The restoration work was completed by Heritage Conservation Group, led by President Nina Olsson. The Chapman PTA, Neighbors West-Northwest, and Heritage Conservation Group are hosting a community educational event at the school for the public unveiling of the wood mural and new educational panels that will accompany them. Please join us on Thursday, Dec. 1st, from 6-8 pm at the Chapman Elementary School Auditorium. Appetizers and child-friendly activities will be provided.