WHEELING - It's been five months in waiting and soon the courtroom in West Virginia Independence Hall will look more historically accurate to the 19th century original.
John Canning, a self-employed historic restorationist and consultant from Cheshire, Conn., and his team are expected to complete the finishing touches on the courtroom walls and ceilings this week.
"The room will look as it did when it was presented to the public in 1859," Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline said.
Photo by Zach Macormac
West Virginia Independence Hall Site Manager Travis Henline discusses a reprint of an illustration that appeared in the July 6, 1861 edition of Harpers Weekly, which helped in restoration.
Canning said he used the French technique trompe l'oeil - or "to fool the eye" - to add the appearance of depth and texture to a flat image. Signs of the painting technique were found in original pieces of the hall's ceiling saved after a restoration in the 1980s. The layout of those images were found in a July 6, 1861, illustration in Harpers Weekly.
The fixtures depicted on the walls and ceiling were designed to seem like a carved wooden panel or decoration, but is merely a part of the paint.
Visitors "don't realize it's painted flat," Henline said.
A section of wall above the courtroom's main entrance will remain as the original "for posterity," according to Henline. Canning removed "25 to 30" layers of paint to find the original work in that spot.
As was found during the first restoration in the 1980s, Canning rediscovered doodles of animals by the original artist underneath the first layer of paint. The work will show both the original trompe l'oeil and the doodles. An clear encapsulating layer will be placed on top to preserve the section of wall.
A formal unveiling will be held sometime next month. Funding for the project has been provided through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
Canning's studio has been known for its involvement with the Senate West Front Corridor at the United States Capitol; Farquharson Hall at the Culinary Institute of America, New York; and the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston.