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An Omaha icon getting a refresh: The Durham Museum continues restoration of Art Deco ceilings in Great Hall

Posted at 9:53 AM, Jan 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-21 10:53:11-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Sitting 60 feet above, historic art displayed across the Union Station ceilings is now getting a refresh.

"We consider Union Station our greatest artifact the building is a national, historic landmark, so it's our responsibility to care for it," said Jessica Brummer, director of communications for The Durham Museum.

But maintaining it, while also preserving that history is key.

"Conservation or consolidation of some plaster surfaces, some replastering of some areas that are a little more damaged, some cleaning and touching up of paint, we are not completely repainting everything because everything is in actually pretty good shape," said Marc Sova, decorative paint foreman for EverGreene Architectural Arts.

Exploring the Great Hall of this historic building you probably don't see many imperfections, but if you take a closer look, you can see parts of the ceiling impacted by past projects, water and time.

"Stuff that looks like you weren't going to have to touch it all, from the ground, needs a little work, so there is some of that but nothing, nothing major," Sova said.

Sova and the crew from EverGreene Architectural Arts started this project in 2020 and successfully completed the Swanson Gallery, but because of the pandemic, the Great Hall was put on hold.

"There is not a lot of really fantastic Art Deco buildings of this size in the country, so it's kind of a joy to walk in, see it and get to be a part of it," Sova said.

It's a $1.6 million project funded by private donors and a grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, and it is expected to be fully complete by the end of May.

"The scaffold will start going up, in the first section of the Great Hall, as we are wrapping this one up, so we can just keep hop scotching onto the different scaffolds and not pull out for a duration," Sova said.

But a project of this scale and significance comes with its own challenges.

"Sometimes it is a challenge matching, 50, 80, 100-year-old techniques and materials with modern materials that don't necessarily behave that way," Sova said.

He said it's amazing that Omaha still has this landmark.

"I think it's great that the building is preserved, I mean there has been so many of these big old train stations and structures that get torn down," Sova said.

The team is examining every detail, restoring it all by hand, and ensuring that everyone can enjoy the Durham for years to come.

"Just getting to experience this space as it was in 1931 and kind of be transported back in time," Brummer said.

The last ceiling restoration was in the early 90s. Because this current project is being done in phases, the museum plans to stay open, throughout. Visit the museum website for updates, operational impacts and videos of the process.

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