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Great State: Damaged Mural in Storage at Oklahoma History Center Sees New Life

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA -- Decades since they last saw anything but a storage room, these Cherokee faces on the Trail of Tears are being carefully un-covered.

"There it is," exclaims art conservator Carmen Bria.

Bria travelled from the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts in Denver spent a week at the Oklahoma History Center bringing life back to a damaged mural completed by artist Elizabeth Janes in 1939.

"The main thing is long-term preservation," says Bria. "That's our goal."

The good news, despite irregular stretches in the canvas, damage caused by a falling shelf in 1979, and 76 years of accumulated dirt, Bria's assessment was that the painting merited saving.

"It's mostly intact," he says as the canvas lies on the floor. "It's not in bad condition. It just needed to come off the frame. It needed to be relaxes and it needed to be re-stretched and the edges reinforced."

Flattened properly, Carmen uses water with a low PH to clean, first the brighter areas of this 18 foot long mural.

He'll move very carefully to the artwork's more earthy tones.

"Even the reds and some of those oranges can be sensitive," he says.

Janes planned this mural to be part of a much larger series dealing with Oklahoma history.

This was the only one she completed.

It was donated to the Historical Society in 1940.

Carmen Bria insists it will hang again after a little touch-up, some re-stretching, and a good bath.

He says these are conservation efforts that should last for generations to come.

Bria says, "We can definitely make sure it lasts a very, very long time."

Bria's week with the Trail of Tears mural was on full display at a gallery in the new Oklahoma History Center.

Museum curators say the painting will have a place in the Native American section of the museum soon.