Exterior Wallcovering?

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Originally, I was contacted by an artist who asked me if I was interested in doing a mural installation at a fire station. “Absolutely,” I answered. Little did I know that it would be four handpainted murals on canvas – each 7 feet high by 10 feet wide with a value of $15,000 per panel. And they would be hung on the OUTSIDE of a fire station over stucco walls. The fire station was one mile from the beach and across from Los Angeles International Airport! Each panel had its own title: “EARTH,” “WATER,” “FIRE” and “AIR.” I thought to myself, “This guy has got to be out of his mind – no way.” In my 32 years of business, nobody has ever asked me to install something on the outside of a building.

The murals were painted by Victor Henderson and designed by Elizabeth Garrison, both of Los Angeles. Victor has been painting murals for over 37 years, so I was very comfortable with his expertise and knowledge. The murals were commissioned by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission in 2009. Victor used an acrylic paint on synthetic canvas. I told Victor that this wasn’t going to work over stucco, on the outside walls of a building, and at the beach. Then he assured me that it could be done and that he would show me how. He stated that he knew of an adhesive company that could make a specialty adhesive that would allow the canvas to adhere to the stucco. The company that was to supply the adhesive was Nova Color, which is based in Culver City, Calif. The name of the adhesive is Super Nova Gel.

Victor and I met at the fire station. He had neglected to tell me that the walls were 22 feet high and the murals would be hung from that point to the top of the windows. The windows were about 12 feet off the ground. Also, each panel was separated by a barrier, which would require putting up and tearing down scaffolding for each panel. There were a total of six panels on the building. We would be installing the murals on the middle panels, leaving the two end panels blank.

After much conversation and Victor convincing me that this adhesive would work, we put together a plan. Right away, I knew that I would need help and advice, so I called two of the best paperhangers in Southern California: Bill Williams and Randy Greene. We are all licensed contractors with the state of California and work together frequently. We also are members of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers (NGPP). After much brainstorming, we put a plan together. Now it came down to whether or not we could really do it!

We went in and erected scaffolding, scraped the stucco as smooth as possible, and primed the outside of the walls with Drawtite. Drawtite is a sealer that was originally used to seal concrete. But paperhangers have had great success with it for sealing walls for wallcoverings. We would have to erect and tear down the scaffolding for each of the four panels and prep these walls before we could install the murals. Therefore, we had to erect and take down the scaffolding one time for the prep and one time for the installation for each panel for a total of eight times. Needless to say, that was an effort in itself.

Our next problem was the footing for the scaffolding. At the ground level of each panel were river rocks. There was no way we could set the scaffolding on the rocks. We had to devise a plan that would stabilize the footing for the scaffolding. We decided to smooth out the rocks as best as possible, custom-cut plywood and two-by-fours, and lay them over the rocks to level them out. By some miracle, the scaffolding just fit in between these dividers with about 1 inch to spare. Each panel also had an outside light that would have to be cut around because it could not be removed.

With three levels of scaffolding built and accessed by an extension ladder, we were ready for the install. Because these murals were handpainted on canvas, each panel had to be laid out and custom trimmed to fit prior to installation. We decided to hang them side to side rather than top to bottom, as we felt we would have better control of each panel. We set laser lines on the sides to keep the panels straight. We were lucky that our indoor lasers worked outside. Granted, they were set within 10 feet of the walls, but they worked. Many thanks to Pacific Laser Systems for their products.

Each wall was pasted as fast as possible with a fairly thick coat of adhesive. Each mural was rolled sideways and dry-hung (pasting the wall and not the material). With one man on the top level of the scaffolding and two men on the bottom (because of cutting around the light), we were able to install the murals successfully. After the job was completed, a solvent-based coating (Soluvar) was used to seal the canvas. We used 1 1/2 gallons at a cost of $120/gal. According to Victor, the murals should last at least 10 years.

The entire job took two days with three men and was a total success. Nine months later, I’m proud to say that it is still stuck tight on outside stucco walls, at the beach and with all the weather! APC

Jim Grumbly was born and raised in the Los Angeles, Calif., area. His first job was working for Albert Van Iuit & Co. He started in the sample department and, after six months, was trained to be a printer. He printed wallpaper and scenic murals for three years while going to the West Valley Occupational Center at night, learning how to install wallpaper. After finishing the class, he bought his starter tools (for $200 in 1972!) and the rest is history. “The best move I ever made,” says Jim, “is joining the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers in 1991. Without the knowledge and experience I have received from the guild, I would never have been able to do this job!


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