There is no real future without preserving our history and our culture. ~ Dan Tarnoveanu
MN State Capitol Cafeteria

Historic Preservation Award
Award of Recognition

Minnesota State Capitol Cafeteria
Grand Staircase Hall

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Murals and Painted Architectural Surfaces
Conservation and Replication

Excerpts from Minnesota Monthly, July 1999: "Dan Tarnoveanu led the effort in restoring the capitol's murals to their pre-World War I glory.  ...The cafeteria in the basement of the Minnesota State Capitol...is covered with murals...decorated by a team of German-American immigrants in 1905.  For the past year, a crew led by architect and art conservation expert Dan Tarnoveanu has been painstakingly restoring and replicating murals in the capitol's cafeteria.  The originals were covered up in 1917 when anti-German sentiment ran high.  Hidden for decades under thick plaster and 20 layers of paint, elaborate cartouches, eagles, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a berry-and-ivy designs are now emerging on the vaulted ceiling....For some areas, the Romanian-born Tarnoveanu is replicating original designs with stencils...To differentiate new from restored areas, the original murals are recessed about a quarter of an inch into the original mural."

The Minnesota State Capitol was designed by the famous American architect Cass Gilbert, who commissioned works of art to be placed throughout the building.  Ground was broken for the building on May 6, 1896 and the building was completed in 1905.

This building represents a wonderful harmony between architecture, sculpture, and the painted decoration.  As Cass Gilbert said: "in the old daysthe architect, the painter and the sculptor were frequently one and the same man.  There is no reason why they should not be so now."

The Cafeteria represents one of the very important spaces of the Capitol building. Its vaulted ceiling, walls, and arches contain magnificent decorative murals. Legislators, visitors and employees who gathered in this superb and harmonious space to eat, drink and socialize.  The Cafeteria is located in the north wing of the basement. It is approximately 21 feet high at its highest point. Its oil on plaster ornamentation consists of oak leaf borders, squirrels, rabbits, cartouches, American Eagles, grape leaf decorative designs, and 32 scrolls with German mottoes.

The Grand Staircase Hall leading to the Cafeteria is decorated with stenciled bay leaves and straight line borders. The conservation and restoration of the decorative architectural surfaces and murals in the Cafeteria and Grand Staircase Hall was a part of a larger remodeling project led by the architectural firm of Miller Dunwiddie Architecture. This project included the addition (adjacent to the Cafeteria) of a modern kitchen.

This project was comprised of two (2) phases:

1998 Phase I: Examination, Recovery and Documentation
  • Uncovering the original designs and colors – removing 20 layers of paint by using chemical and mechanical methods
  • Designing full size drawings in two sizes: 36”X 72” and 42”X72”
  • Matching the original colors using the Munsell color system
  • Photo documentation 

1999 Phase II: Restoration and Replication of the Original Decorative Murals

A. Conservation: Seven original mural sections, dating back to 1907, were restored. Conservation consisted of:
  • Cleaning
  • Filling cracks, holes and all missing areas of plaster support and paint
  • Consolidating of paint layers

B. Replication: The remaining sections of the walls (where the plaster substrate was in  poor condition) were replicated.

The restoration project was completed in December 1999.

This project received two (2) awards: 

(1) Historic Preservation Award in 2002 from Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM); and

(2) Recognition Award also in 2002 from Saint Paul Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

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