Experts restore Fisher Building ceilings

Michael Hodges
The Detroit News

Detroit’s grande dame is getting a face-lift.

The remarkable murals on the Fisher Building’s vaulted ceilings suffered from years of leaks and ill-advised restoration efforts. Now the new owners — The Platform — are giving them the full beauty treatment.

EverGreene Architectural Arts, one of the country’s leading restoration outfits, was hired to assess the damage and plan repairs to Hungarian artist Géza Maróti’s 1928 masterwork.

“We brought in our conservator to document conditions, patterns and colors, and work out a treatment plan,” said Terry VanderWell, EverGreene director of restoration. Work will wrap up in a couple weeks.

The next step was stabilizing damaged plaster. Problems in the central dome, where naked, red-headed nymphs cavort, were particularly severe.

“As you tapped on the plaster,” VanderWell said, “it sounded hollow, which meant layers had separated. So we injected consolidants to stabilize it.”

The Platform estimates full ceiling restoration will cost $500,000, a small part of the $100 million owners plan to spend on both the Fisher and the nearby Albert Kahn Building.

On Tuesday, two restoration painters were on scaffolds meticulously retracing elaborate art deco designs.

Indianapolis resident Brad Stewart, carefully tracing a yellow line that will then be covered by gold paint, called the building “just incredible.”

Legend has it the ceiling was originally painted in just two months, a feat that, given the huge size, seems a little hard to swallow.

Still, as VanderWell noted, most of it was done by stencil, which would speed things up. Plus, he added, labor was cheap, and it’s possible dozens of men were simultaneously at work.

As for the building generally, Chicago resident VanderWell shook his head. “It’s a masterpiece. I love that they call it Detroit’s largest art object.”

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy