Artists celebrate restoration of historic murals


By Joel Charron

The two men responsible for the creation of the murals along the external gymnasium wall of General Amherst met face-to-face with the man who was responsible fo restoring their work.

On Sunday morning John Oliver, the original designer and artist and artisan master plasterer Bruno Vendrasco met with local artist Jason Dyrda to reveal the nine newly restored 30-foot murals.

“I think Jason has done a marvelous job,” said Oliver. “It’s just one beautiful work of art. This is something that people can really be proud of for quite some time.”

The murals were created as a part of the work associated with the expansion of the high school during 1964-67.

The high school expanded in 1964-65 with the contractor Collavino Ltd. A double gym was constructed, with six panels available for murals. A second expansion occurred in 1966-67 with contractor Ellis-Don Ltd, when a third gym was added, with three more panels available. Oliver noted that he only worked on the first six panels and admits he’s not sure who did the additional three.

In both projects, JP Thomson & Associates was the architectural firm and it subcontracted the work for the panels on both expansions to a Windsor plaster Vendrasco, who worked with a difficult material called “granolux” to create the murals.

“I never did it for the money,” said Vendrasco. “I simply did it because I enjoyed it.”


Project facilitator Paul Hertel (far left) stands with orginial mural desginer John Oliver, master plasterer Bruno Vendrasco and artist Jason Dyrda.

Each panel is 10 feet in width and 30 feet in height, inset into a cement brick wall some 3-4 inches. Originally it was intended that an athletic motifs would be shown; however in deference to  Amherstburg’s rich historic heritage, the theme of the motifs was changed.

Project Facilitator Paul Hertel said it was only fitting to having all three artists on site to see the finished product.

“This is a totally fabulous restoration,” said Hertel. “I think it is an upgrade to Amherstburg’s visual history that is going to last quite a while.”

Hertel said they were unable to do a total restoration of the mural because some of the materials do not exist any more.

“We’ve done what we think is the very best job with modern materials,” he said. “Jason was the right person to take on a project of this size.”

Dyrda, who began the restoration in April, said there were some challenges along the way.

“A lot of the texture to a lot of the colours were kind of crumbling and falling apart. A lot of the colours were faded or even worn out,” explained Dyrda. “I had to go through each one and find out where each colour was going to go.”

Dyrda mentioned the colour was faded so badly in some parts it was extremely difficult to determine what colour was originally used.

Dyrda noted that there is a new concrete curb and a new wall to protect the bottom half of the murals.

“When I started the bottom of the murals were just crumbling and in one part you were able to see the cinder blocks at the back,” he said. “This new curb and wall will protect it hopefully for a long time.”

The Windsor based artist said taking on this project was “a dream come true.”

“This is something that I always wanted to do,” he said. ‘I love doing art, I love doing murals and to do something on this grand of scale, I was loving every moment.”

The cost of the project is approximately $50,000 but only $20,000 in cash is actually being spent with the rest being in-kind donations.

Hertel added plaques will be installed in the fall and will feature a more descriptive way of telling people what the murals represent.

Hetel also credited manager of Culture and Tourism, Anne Rota for taking care of all the paper work and behind the scenes work.

“On behalf of everyone who walks by these murals everyday and the future generations who will enjoy these majestic pieces of art, thank you for all your hard work,” said Rota.


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