RED WING — Recently, walking into the Goodhue County Government Center's rotunda came with some risk; not that one would be rained on or things would drop from the third floor, though it's plausible that happened at least once since the building's opening, but that chipping paint would sprinkle one's hair.
Now, the rotunda is being restored from the second floor's base to the ceiling of the third floor. In 1932, the Red Wing Republican described the rotunda's paintings and lighting, saying:
"The modernistic idea is carried out in decorations and lighting fixtures. The walls are paneled, as is the ceiling also, where some of the finest examples of art plastering..."
The Government Center's cornerstone was laid on Saturday, June 13, 1931. The building was formerly dedicated May 14, 1932.
Conrad Schmitt Studios Inc., the same company that worked to refurbish the Sheldon Theatre in 2018, began work on the Government Center on Monday, Dec. 2. Once two stories of scaffolding was up, the crew began inspecting the paintings that comprise the two stories of paintings and patterns.
Despite the size and scope of the updates, Jeremy Lunn, the lead artisan of the restoration, estimates the project to be done before Christmas.
The work to restore this art is slow. Lunn showed Red Wing artist Art Kenyon and Goodhue County Board Commissioner Paul Drotos the layers of dirt, varnish and paint that the team works to clean and, in some cases, remove to find the original designs and pigments. One of the most startling finds (within the first 48 hours of work) is that the columns that now have a cream, shell-like pattern originally had a geometric pattern that ran up the columns. Lunn plans to restore that pattern.
Along with finding original designs, Conrad Schmitt Studios is working to determine the first pigments used and then reproduce them. This can be difficult, but Lunn and his team have experience looking for color clues and then mixing a matching pigment. According to Lunn, the most annoying part of the process is when he "over shoots" a color and then has to add more paint to correct his mistake.
The rotunda project was disputed by the county commissioners during the 2018 budgeting process. Commissioner Jason Majerus at one point wrote, in part: "A sum of $50,000 is planned to be spent to repair a mural/painting at the government center in Red Wing. It is my belief that an overwhelming majority of the taxpayers in Goodhue County are not aware of the existence of this mural. This falls into what I consider unnecessary and ridiculous spending."
The budget with the $50,000 for the restoration passed, however.
Drotos, who has been a longtime advocate for preserving the rotunda, said he plans to visit the Government Center daily to watch the Conrad Scmitt Studios crew work. When speaking of the paintings Drotos declared:
"They're going to be magnificent."