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Panel Is on a Mission of Love : Hopes to Correct 'Insensitive Restoration' of Indian Artwork

August 24, 1986|REGINALD SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Hidden under plaster at the San Fernando Mission are elaborate displays of Indian artwork, most of which was covered over during restoration after the 1971 earthquake.

The ornate drawings of floral arrangements and vineyards that lined the archways and ran along the bottom of the walls in several of the main rooms are gone.

But now, a Mission Preservation Commission has been formed that will oversee the refurbishing or re-creation of the Indians' artwork.

Rebuilding after the earthquake was an "insensitive restoration," said Norman Neuerburg, an art expert whose ties to the mission go back 45 years to his duties as a tour guide there. "They were more concerned with the stability of the building than in keeping the historic appearance," he said.

Msgr. Francis J. Weber, head of the mission, said the sala and governor's rooms and all public rooms had been extensively decorated and "we want to eventually bring back that scheme."

Grape Harvest Scene

Neuerburg, who was responsible for re-creating the floral drawings in the Fray Junipero Serra Memorial Chapel at the mission, said the original work was done by Indians, who in one room depicted a scene in which grapes were being harvested.

"It stood for the production of wine at the mission, and it also had a biblical reference," Neuerburg said. "When the Israelites came into the Promised Land, their first harvest was of incredible size, including big grapes.

"It was one of the few bits of decorations in a California mission that was pictorial, that told a story."

Weber said Neuerburg, a professor emeritus of art at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who has done extensive restoration at San Juan Capistrano, San Juan Batista and the Spanish Presidio in Santa Barbara, will probably be selected to guide the restoration of the San Fernando Mission.

Removing Plaster

Neuerburg said his preference would be to have the plaster covering the decorations removed. If there is too much damage to the artwork, he said, copies of the original work will have to be made, using whatever photographs might be available.

The monsignor said it is too early to determine the cost of the restoration project or where the money will come from.

Besides Weber, others on the commission are San Fernando Mayor Jess Margarito; Lucki Baxter, head of the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce; and William Hannon and Frank Modugno, who have long been active in civic affairs.

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