by Michael Imwalle
Painted Figure as it appeared in 2002. Photo by Michael Imwalle.
The Santa Barbara Trust for historic Preservation recently completed an important conservation assessment at the Santa Inés Mission Mills property thanks to a grant from the California Missions Foundation (CMF).
According to Santa Inés Mission’s annual account books, construction of two masonry reservoirs and a water-powered grist mill was completed by October 1820. The following year a batán or fulling facility had been constructed. The fulling mill operated with a vertical “New England-style” water wheel which powered water from the zanja (ditch). An interesting feature of the fulling mill structure is an enigmatic anthropomorphic figure painted on the masonry surface of the south-facing wall.
A detailed condition assessment was performed in 2001 to determine the age and condition of the painting (you can read more about that here). While the overall condition of the image was considered good, the study found that it had been affected by fracturing, detachment, surface loss, salt formation, and biological growth. The 2001 study recommended regular monitoring of the condition, including the detailed examination of chronologic, time-lapsed photographs to determine if additional loss of material was taking place.
Antoinette and Rick on the scaffolding during fieldwork phase of the project. Photo by Michael Imwalle.
Thanks to a generous grant from CMF, SBTHP was able to hire rock art conservator Antoinette Padgett and rock art photographer Rick Bury to perform an updated assessment of the figure in 2013. The recent study made several recommendations regarding actions to be undertaken to slow or halt the processes that are causing the damage to the figure. We hope to secure continued support from CMF or other generous donors to support the study and conservation of this important piece of California history.
Michael Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation