Tucked away in storage for years, the crown jewels of the Missoula County Courthouse will soon be back in their proper places.

On Friday, workers began to reinstall a set of eight murals by artist Edgar Paxson in the entrance staircase of the courthouse, one of the final steps in a years-long renovation process.

The paintings, first hung in 1914, were taken down five years ago in preparation for the renovation. Aside from a summer display at the Missoula Art Museum in 2014, the murals have remained in a climate-controlled storage facility owned by the county, said the museum’s senior curator Brandon Reintjes.

Before the murals were reinstalled, new custom-made frames were created for each of them.

“The gold fillet really increases the visual presentation and matches the architectural work in the courthouse,” Reintjes said. “Then it has a thicker dark wood profile that was modeled after the Glacier National Park paintings that hang in the lodges in the park.”

In a surprising turn of events, the courthouse will be hanging back up more pieces than were taken down. When the paintings were sent to a restoration expert in New York in 1980, he found two uncompleted underpaintings. They were part of the display at the MAM, and will be framed and installed in the stairway adjacent to the other paintings at the courthouse, Reintjes said.

“They were paintings that did not proceed past a certain point, and they were behind the others as backing material,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for The Missoulian.