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The restoration of Depression-era murals found at Mitchell Elementary/Middle School last year after a fire there has been put on indefinite hold because of rising costs and the discovery of lead paint.

The fire broke out early Feb. 27 and destroyed the gym. Smoke and water from fighting the fire caused much of the elementary school damage, including the murals.

Because lead paint was used in the adhesive to mount the murals, the cost to restore the art is upwards of $300,000 – nearly triple the original quote – and insurance will only cover the cost up to the value of the pieces.

Racine Unified spokesperson Stacy Tapp confirmed for Racine County Eye that the restoration is on hold until the District receives word of the murals’ value.

“Unfortunately, the Conservation Center, which was handling the restoration, discovered that lead paint was used as part of the adhesive to mount the mural. Therefore, additional costs would be incurred in the restoration,” she said in an email. “At this point, we have put the restoration on hold. The proposal suggests that the restoration could cost more than $300,000. Insurance will only cover up to the value of the mural. We have not yet received that value.”

Completed in 1941, the five mural panels were painted by Santos Zingale under the Works Progress Administration. The paintings hung in what was then Mitchell High School and they illustrated the arrival in Racine of Gilbert Knapp. Zingale was an art professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he painted the murals during the Great Depression through the Federal Art Project.

During a 1950s remodel of the school, the mural panels were rolled up and placed in the school’s basement. After the fire destroyed the Mitchell gym, the murals were discovered in the basement damaged by the water used to fight the fire.

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