The Noble Maritime Collection unveils restoration of 19th-century trompe-l’oeil ceiling mural, thanks to funding from the Versailles-Giverny Foundation
STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK —The Noble Maritime Collection has unveiled the restoration of a 19th-century ceiling mural in the museum’s Writing Room, a historic feature of the former Sailors’ Snug Harbor retirement home.
The Victorian mural is hand painted in the trompe-l’oeil style, creating the optical illusion of a three-dimensional glasshouse roof with flora suggesting the South Seas, where many of the resident mariners had sailed. The mural was originally commissioned by Sailors’ Snug Harbor around 1883 in celebration of the retirement home’s 50th anniversary.
The restoration was necessary due to the collapse of part of the original, 176-year-old ceiling in 2020.
The project was funded by the Versailles-Giverny Foundation, facilitated by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and designed and executed by EverGreene Architectural Arts.
“We value historic preservation at the Noble Maritime Collection, and this project has been particularly meaningful for the staff and Board of Trustees as it ensures that this work of art can be appreciated for many generations to come,” said Ciro Galeno, Jr., the museum’s executive director.
The Noble Maritime Collection is known for the grassroots adaptive reuse project led by the volunteer Noble Crew during the 1990s, which rehabilitated the National Historic Landmark Building D, a former Sailors’ Snug Harbor dormitory from 1844, and turned it into the museum’s new home.
The Writing Room was a large, sunlit common area on the first floor, just next to the front entrance, where sailors once gathered to write correspondence. While restoring the room thirty years ago, the Noble Crew discovered, under decades of paint layers and plaster patches, the glasshouse ceiling mural, and its restoration was a crowning achievement of the rehabilitation of Building D.
Unfortunately, in July 2020 during a thunderstorm, a portion of the ceiling collapsed. With a generous emergency grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the museum engaged restoration firm EverGreene Architectural Arts to assess the condition of the ceiling.
EverGreene’s conservators and preservationists determined that deterioration of the plaster and failure of plaster keys among other factors lead to the collapse of the ceiling that was built in the 1840s. The existing ceiling framing was no longer sound and also needed to be replaced.
In 2021, prior to replacing the ceiling, EverGreene conservators documented the mural, which included a full photogrammetric digital scan and a historic paint analysis, so that one day it could be restored.
The museum then contracted the Staten Island firm Simply Built to remove the original ceiling and put up a new one that was finished to EverGreene’s specifications—should the museum one day raise enough money to have the mural restored.
With great skill, Matthew Poritz of Simply Built was able to salvage the room’s original plaster crown molding from the 1840s.
In the late winter of 2023, representatives from the Conservancy visited the museum and inquired about the status of the Writing Room ceiling mural restoration project.
The Conservancy offered to connect the museum with The Versailles-Giverny Foundation, which after a site visit from its President Barbara de Portago and Chargé d’Affaires Anthony Rhodes, generously offered to underwrite the mural restoration, to be facilitated by the Conservancy.
EverGreene’s Design Studio prepared the design documents to recreate the original mural using the information from the original mural design, color palette, and hand-painting techniques from the conservation report completed in 2021.
Salvaged fragments of the original mural also informed the hand-painting techniques so EverGreene’s artists could create prototypes to build out this large-scale recreation.
EverGreene’s artists then hand-painted the design onto archival-quality canvas in their Brooklyn Studio, first completing a mock-up that was reviewed and approved by the Noble Maritime Collection.
Once the mural was completed and approved, the on-site work for the installation occurred in October 2023. The canvas was adhered to the ceiling in sections and the seams touched up to ensure the mural is completely smooth and harmonious.
The completed mural was unveiled at the Noble Maritime Collection’s 35th Annual John A. Noble Art Auction on Friday, November 10, 2023, and the Writing Room exhibition is now open to all visitors.
The Noble Maritime Collection is located in Building D, a former mariners’ dormitory at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, New York.
The museum is open to the public Thursday through Sunday from 12 until 5 PM. Admission to the museum during regular gallery hours is by donation.
To learn more about the museum, call (718) 447-6490 or visit noblemaritime.org.
About its work, the New York Landmarks Conservancy says, “From the smallest buildings, to the most extraordinary landmarks, to our diverse neighborhoods, the New York Landmarks Conservancy is on the front lines—preserving and protecting the unique architectural heritage and character of the City we love.” For more information, visit nylandmarks.org.
Established in 1978, EverGreene has provided design, restoration, and conservation services for some of the most significant art, architecture, and artifacts across the United States. Their award-winning work on historic landmarks, adaptive reuse, and contemporary environments has earned them an international reputation for being the foremost authority on architectural arts. They have worked on more than 400 theaters; 38 of the fifty state capitols including the US Capitol and other civic buildings; commercial buildings; numerous sacred spaces; and museums. Visit evergreene.com to learn more.
Banner Image: The completed Writing Room ceiling mural restoration at the Noble Maritime Collection. (Photo by Ciro Galeno, Jr., courtesy of the Noble Maritime Collection)