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Flathead community works together to save historic Glacier National Park murals

GNP Mural Joe Abbrescia
GNP Mural
Posted at 5:34 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-17 19:34:05-05

KALISPELL - A total of 15 murals depicting Glacier National Park were donated to the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell in 2012.

The paintings are believed to be more than 100 years old and were used as promotional and decorative pieces in various lodges throughout the park.

Thanks to community support, the paintings are being given new life as an art conservator in Kalispell works to restore their beauty.

“Just trying to get in right where the pigment is missing and just dabbing a little bit of this pastel color on there,” said Abbrescia Gallery & Fine Art Restoration Studio owner Joe Abbrescia.

Abbrescia explains what he is doing to restore the murals in the below video.

WEB EXTRA: Joe Abbrescia describes historic artwork restoration

The beautiful, historic murals were rescued from the brink of destruction.

“They were getting ready to be thrown out in Glacier Park and a family came across them, was able to rescue them, this was in the 1950s, and then the family passed those down to their granddaughter,” describes Hockaday Museum of Art Executive Director Alyssa Cordova.

Cordova said the murals are believed to have been painted sometime around 1910.

“These are over a 100 years old, and when they came to us, they had been cut out of their frames so there was some damage there and they had hung in these lodges for many years, so we’ve been working really hard over the last 10-15 years to get these all restored,” added Cordova.

Historic GNP Artwork
Abbrescia Gallery & Fine Art Restoration Studio owner Joe Abbrescia works to restore the historic artwork.

The murals range in size anywhere from 4 to 13 feet wide and showcase iconic landscapes and geographical sites throughout the park.

“So, for me to be the kind of middleman that gets to bring these paintings back to closer to what the artists intended them to look like, that’s a really neat thing,” said Abbrescia

Abbrescia has restored nine of the damaged murals, he is currently working on two pieces that will be finished in the coming months.

“Sometimes you’re just dotting, just dotting things but it’s amazing how just to touch up little spots how it just tightens up the whole piece as a whole, it’s really satisfying, it’s pretty neat,” said Abbrescia.

Historic GNP Artwork
A total of 15 murals depicting Glacier National Park were donated to the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell in 2012.

Once restored, Cordova said the murals are sent on loan to various buildings across the state, including the Blewett School of Law at the University of Montana, Bigfork Courthouse and others.

She said the restoration process is made possible thanks to community support, including a large monetary donation from the Whitefish Credit Union allowing Abbrescia to do his work.

“Because we really want these murals to be seen by as much and by as many people as possible, so it’s really been a community project to get these all restored,” said Cordova.

Now the museum is asking for the public's help to find out who painted these murals, as no signatures were left on any of the pieces of art.

Historic GNP Artwork
The paintings are believed to be more than 100 years old and were used as promotional and decorative pieces in various lodges at Glacier National Park.

“This is a mystery that is ongoing, and we hope that maybe someone in the public can help us solve if they have a family member that knows some of that history, they were done probably by some artist here in this area, they’re pretty accomplished, they’re beautiful murals so someone who did these was an accomplished artist,” said Cordova.

“And the only thing we had to go on any of these, there were a few of them on the backs they had like “hallway” listed or “dining room” or something like this, so other than that it’s hard to say you know, and I’d hate to speculate on who the artist was,” added Abbrescia.

Cordova asks anyone with information on the murals to contact the museum.

“We need someone to help us crack the case, if you have any information please give it to us, please contact the museum, call us or go to our website and email us, we’d love to know more about these murals, the more information we have, the more we can help provide education for the public,” said Cordova.