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Runoff stains mar pier murals (video)

Lawrence Pierce
Makeshift metal shields help protect Reaford Walker's mural from further staining from the overhead expansion joint.
Lawrence Pierce
Emma Plagemann has draped her still-unfinished mural beside Virginia Street with a plastic curtain to protect it from staining rainwater that pours through an expansion joint above the column.
Lawrence Pierce
Charly Hamilton's baseball-themed mural, painted last summer along Kanawha Boulevard, is covered with concrete stains from repairs to the I-64 entrance ramp above.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Streaky stains caused by rainwater running off Interstate 64 have spoiled the work of dozens of artists and threaten the future of the peer to pier program, its founder said. Lori Brannon, who convinced city leaders to recruit artists to paint murals on the columns that support I-64 after seeing a similar project in New Orleans, alerted members of the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force of the problem last week."There are lots of maintenance issues," Brannon said while showing photos of damaged murals.Problems started last summer, when artists began painting the murals along the north side of Kanawha Boulevard. Those piers sit right under an expansion joint for the roadway above. Whenever it rains, water pours through the joint and streams down the columns, carrying dirt and other contaminants with it.Some of the columns painted this summer -- half of the ones along Virginia Street lie under expansion joints -- are already stained, Brannon said.Geoff Plagemann, who like Brannon works in the city's planning department, discovered another problem this summer while painting a mural. Several of the piers are located beside a vertical pipe -- a downspout of sorts -- that carries rainwater from a highway drain to an underground pipe. The spout has two pieces, a smaller upper section that fits loosely into a bottom section."Geoff has a video," Brannon said. "He was there during a major rain. Water was gushing out [of the joint]. We were never aware of that before." The drain is apparently clogged up, forcing the water to back up, she said.Plagemann said he shot two videos -- one of gushing downspouts, another of an expansion joint leaking a curtain of water.The downpour about a month ago washed out a day's work for his wife, Emma, on the mural she's been working on. After that, they rigged up a plastic curtain, wrapped around the column."So now we go down there, raise the curtain, work on it and put it back down," he said. There are brownish streaks on the white-painted column above her mural, and more on the curtain."For the most part it's on the outside of the plastic," Plagemann said. "The staining isn't that bad. You can wipe it away with a wet cloth. But you need some kind of plan for maintenance." Reaford Walker, a professional sign painter, also ran into rain problems while painting his mural of John Brown this summer."It's already staining," Walker said. Pigeons, too. "They were pooping on my painting."He took direct action. He put spikes to keep the pigeons from roosting. He also devised a method to divert drips."I put some triangles up, aluminum triangles, so it wouldn't drain down on the column. I think the triangle idea would be a good idea."
Charly Hamilton, who has painted murals each of the last three summers, said he was tempted to try Walker's approach until the contractors working overhead on the bridge and its approaches created another problem. His Boulevard mural, which he painted last summer, lies under the westbound on-ramp.
"The people building the ramp drilled a hole, about 4 to 5 inches in diameter, to allow concrete drainage," Hamilton said."I cleaned [the mural] before FestivALL, and now it looks 10 times as bad. Now it's got concrete spillage on it. It's probably got chemicals on it. It's totally, you can't see it. The volleyball people, the jet ski people last weekend, that's what they saw."They want the city to be upgraded by it, to have people come to see, hey, we've got murals," he said. "If I was from out of state, I'd get the impression from years ago, that we're all standing around barefoot with a jar of peanut butter in our hand."They've got that construction crew that in my opinion does whatever they want. The people who did it can't say they didn't know. They drilled the hole. It's like pushing refrigerators over the hill."At the bottom of it, it's just sloppy. People think it's a big honor to do these murals. Then they treat it like that.
"I sent an email to Lori: 'Would the mayor want his car treated like that?'"Brannon outlined five steps needed to fix the problems and maintain the murals:* Fix the drainage at the expansion joints and seams* Fix the drainage at the entrance and exit ramps* Set up regularly scheduled cleanings, with the least invasive means possible* Get support and assistance from the state Transportation and Highways agencies* Get support from the city, and possibly its Public Grounds department"We've invested $62,000 in artists," Brannon said. "How do we make this go away while protecting this investment?"If we're going to continue with this project, we need to have a comprehensive plan for maintenance."At their meeting Wednesday, task force members asked Brannon to arrange a meeting with city and state Highways officials to discuss the problems.Asked later if the future of the annual mural program was in jeopardy, Brannon said, "That's not my decision. But I certainly don't think there's any point in making any additional investment without addressing these issues."Reach Jim Balow at or 304-348-5102.
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