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Jackson County hopes to peel away the past

Paint on the ceiling of the courtroom inside the Jackson County Courthouse may be covering original ornamentation and stenciling. A Minnesota Historical Society grant will go toward determining if that's the case.

JACKSON -- Peeling paint on the ceiling of the courtroom inside the Jackson County Courthouse will soon be inspected in hopes of revealing what may be original ornamentation and stenciling inside the century-old structure.

Janice Fransen, Jackson County Coordinator, said the potential hidden designs were discovered when murals on the courthouse dome and courtroom walls were restored in 2006.

Last fall, the artist who completed that restoration project told Fransen of legacy dollars from the state's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, offered through the Minnesota Historical Society, to investigate the ceiling. She completed an application with help from restoration artist Dan Tarnoveanu, and it was announced earlier this week that the project was awarded a $7,000 grant.

The grant will cover only the cost of the investigation to see if stenciling exists. If it is found, the county can then apply for additional grants to actually restore the stenciling and plasterwork.

"We do have some old pictures to indicate that it is (present)," Fransen said. "What we think might be under there is stenciling or something more decorative. We also believe that is the case in other areas of the courthouse, and that might be a future grant application as well."

Tarnoveanu, a resident of California, has done numerous restoration projects in Minnesota, including at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis and the Wanda Gag home in New Ulm. He will be returning to the state in April to do work on the Grant County Courthouse, and plans to return to Jackson during his stay.

Via phone on Friday, Tarnoveanu said original colors, and possibly some designs, were covered up with paint over the years, but there is evidence of original paint.

"About 10 years ago, they put a sprinkler system in the courtroom to be according with the code," Tarnoveanu said, adding that some of the work completed, including lowering beams to route piping for the sprinkler system, altered the design and configuration of the room.

The $7,000 grant the county was awarded requires them to solicit bids for the work, but Fransen said Tarnoveanu, owner of Renaissance Art, Restoration and Architecture, was the only one to submit a proposal during the last restoration project.

Jackson County commissioners have yet to approve the grant documents with the Minnesota Historical Society, but once that is done, the work can begin. Fransen said the investigation into the stenciling needs to be completed by June 2014.

"I think this is exciting," she said. "We're always looking to preserve the courthouse. I think it's a beautiful courthouse."

The Neo-Classic style courthouse, constructed in 1908, features murals in its dome and courtroom created by artist Odin J. Oyen, of LaCrosse, Wis.

In her grant application, Fransen said the county needed to make a decision whether to continue to paint over the original ceiling surfaces or to undertake continued conservation efforts.

"The Jackson County Courthouse, and especially the Courtroom, is a source of great pride for the citizens of Jackson County," she wrote in the application. "The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has placed a high priority on maintaining and preserving this historic structure for current and future generations of Jackson County citizens."

Fransen also cited comments made by the late Charles Nelson, former State Historical Architect, who wrote about the courthouse murals in a 2002 letter to an architectural firm. Nelson stated in that letter, "Particularly noteworthy are the exquisite painted murals in the central rotunda dome and in the courtroom, executed by Odin J. Oyen of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. These murals are considered among the finest to be found in the Classic Style public buildings of our state. Oyen was recognized for his skill as an allegorical painter."

Jackson County isn't the only recipient of legacy grant dollars in this latest round of funding from the Minnesota Historical Society. Nobles County will receive $4,330 for a vertical file inventory and cataloging project that involves processing and making accessible archival materials. Pipestone County also received a grant of $830 for a Minnesota Historic Preservation Bookshelf Starter Kit. The kit will add 47 standard Minnesota historic preservation titles to broaden public accessibility.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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