Chattanooga: Courthouse portraits rescued from mold

Chattanooga: Courthouse portraits rescued from mold

February 22nd, 2009 by Monica Mercer in News

Mold and water damage marred more than the walls and floors of the nearly century-old Hamilton County Courthouse over the years.

The pesky problem creeped in on 16 portraits of Circuit Court judges as well, a detail that didn't come to light until after work began in 2001 on the more obvious repercussions of the building's old age.

"They had green mustaches and green sideburns," said Rieca Rousseau, a judicial administrative assistant. "It was pretty nasty."

Staff Photo by TIm Barber<br> Attorney Bruce C. Bailey, committee chair for the restoration of former Circuit Court Judge portraits, shows the updated portrait of M. N. Whitaker, 1929-1930, in the chambers of Judge Jacqueline Bolton's courtroom on Friday.

Staff Photo by TIm Barber<br> Attorney Bruce C. Bailey,...

Current Circuit Court Judge Jackie Bolton led the effort with a small committee of local attorneys to restore the old paintings, some of which date back to the late 1800s when Hamilton County Circuit Court started hearing civil cases. The project cost about $7,000, allocated by the Hamilton County Commission.

"This is our court's history, our county history," Judge Bolton said. "We didn't want (the portraits) to just rot away and, literally, they were rotting away."

As a result of the work, a portrait of Judge Daniel C. Trewitt, the first judge in Hamilton County from 1878 to 1891, no longer bears evidence of its age.

But if the image looks like new, it's because it is.

Tracy Knauss, an image enhancement specialist, used a method to copy the old portraits while retaining their original characteristics, meaning the restored images actually are replicas.

"I scanned each portrait then digitally removed the damaged spots," Mr. Knauss said. "Then I printed the image on canvas. The textures are all there. They look like the original paintings."

A ceremony to hang them will be held at 11 a.m. March 12 in the Hamilton County Commission room. The restoration of the entire courthouse is expected to be completed by 2010.

The neglect of the portraits had other ramifications besides the growth of mold - at least three former judges could not be identified because their names were not attached to their paintings.

In what he called a "serendipitous" moment, Chattanooga lawyer Doug Campbell happened to stop by Judge Bolton's office last September where the mysterious portraits lay.

"She asked me if I knew who any of them were, and I said, 'Yeah, that's my great-grandfather (Judge M.N. Whitaker),'" Mr. Campbell said. "Judge Bolton was kind of floored."

All the portraits have been identified.

Mr. Campbell said he appreciates Judge Bolton's resolve in getting the project off the ground.

"These (former judges) deserve recognition," Mr. Campbell said.