Over the summer, Kenneth Bé, Ford Center Paintings Conservator, spent a week in a little town in Kansas.  Surrounded by the beauty of the Kansas plains, Kenneth worked to clean a mural that had already survived so much.

panoramic photo of brick church on the open plains

Salemsborg Lutheran Church as it looks today.

The Salemsborg Lutheran Church was originally built in 1869 as a dugout building with sod walls.  The walls were soon replaced with stone, but the little dugout church was soon too small and was replaced by a wooden structure in 1872.  By 1892, the church had grown so large, that yet another building was needed and a new frame structure was built with a spire that rose 150 feet.  Swedish American painter, Carl Lotave was commissioned with painting a mural of the “Transfiguration” above the alter.  The building was completed and dedicated in 1989.  

mural of Transfiguration behind alter. Scaffolding set up in front of mural.

The mural of the Transfiguration behind the altar of the church.  Kenneth had to work on the scaffolding to reach the top of the painting.

Disaster literally struck on July 29, 1925 when the church was hit by lightning. As members tried to stop the fire from spreading, someone ran inside and cut the mural from the wall.  The building was ultimately destroyed but the mural was saved.  When the current brick building was completed in 1929, the “Transfiguration” was again placed above the altar.  In the 1950s, two smaller paintings were added to the sides.

To mark the church’s 150th anniversary, the church committee embarked on the project to have the center painting cleaned to remove years of soot, dust and even bird droppings.

Detail of figure of Christ with left hand raised. The right side of painting is much brighter blue in contrast to the darker gray of the uncleaned left side.

The figure of Christ during treatment.  Not the contrast between the brighter blue of the cleaned side on the right.

Climbing over scaffolding, Kenneth cleaned the mural using various solutions to remove the soot and grime.  Applications were done by both sponges and bristle brush. He avoided using cotton because the rough texture of the paint surface could catch cotton fibers.

The cleaning revealed a brighter, bluer sky and especially brought out the light-colored highlights on the figures and drapery.  Bird droppings and drip marks around Christ’s head and halo were removed to allow the illumination and aura of this area of the painting to contrast with the darker areas of the painting.

Detail of the mural of the figure of Christ, before treatment. Image is dingy and gray with drips above the figure's head.     Detail of the mural after treatment. Sky is a brighter blue and the drips have been removed.

Details of the mural before (left) and after (right) treatment.


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

No Father’s Day for Nebraska in 1915

No Father’s Day for Nebraska in 1915

Sewing the Flag

Sewing the Flag

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

Buffalo Bill’s Big House

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.