Conservation in the Time of Cholera
Rosa Lowinger and Viviana Domiguez
Conservation in the Time of Cholera: The Stabilization and Removal Of Murals at the St. Trinite Cathedral in Port-au-Prince
Rosa Lowinger and Viviana Domiguez went to Haiti to help in the recovery of culturally significant murals after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that left more than 250,000 Haitians dead and many more displaced. Soon after the earthquake, the Smithsonian Institute established the Haitian Cultural Recovery Center to aid in salvaging what remains of Haiti’s heritage. The earthquake turned many of the iconic structures to rubble.
Of importance was the St. Trinite Episcopal church that was severely damaged by the quake. There were 14 murals within the church that depicted scenes from the life of Christ within a local Haitian setting. Remnants of only three murals were salvageable. Without any governing infrastructure in place, the challenges of trying to stabilize and remove the murals at first seemed insurmountable. The ability to get supplies and resources required ingenuity. Assistants from the community needed to be trained. Most importantly, it was critical that the survivors come to be part of the project and know that the murals could be saved.
It was decided that the murals needed to be removed from the ruins of the church. They were stabilized with gauze, removed from the walls, and carefully moved. Before storage in shipping containers the gauze was removed so that mold would not damage the pieces in the uncontrolled storage environment.
During this time the conservators faced a constantly changing environment and even endured an outbreak of cholera in the country. The people of Haiti were suffering greatly. They felt that they had lost everything, but still felt the only thing left was their culture. Thanks to people like Lowinger and Domiguez, the Haitians have these murals.
Mary Striegel, Ph.D.
Chief, Materials Research
National Center for Preservation Technology and Training