ABERDEEN, MD. -- -- An artist renovating a historic mural at a restaurant admits cutting corners to save time. And now state officials are arguing with restaurant representatives on who will pick up the tab for the damage, estimated to be more than $400,000.

"I went into a kind of shock when I first saw it," said William A. Smith, 69, the Bucks County, Pa., artist who originally painted the mural depicting the founding of Maryland.

The state-owned mural was damaged during the renovation, conducted at the rest area on John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway southwest of Aberdeen.

The alterations reduced the mural's value from $500,000 to $70,000, according to a recent appraisal. Smith said the changes amount to "vandalism. It was so amateurish, so incompetent . . . . The job was bungled from start to finish. It was in very good condition; all it needed was a cleaning."

Othmar Carli, a York, Pa., art consultant hired by the concessionaire, Marriott Family Foods, to work on the painting, acknowledged that he cut corners on artistic quality. "I was asked to produce something very fast, so it would be acceptable to the public, rather than do a museum-style work because there just wasn't time," he said.

The 13-by-43-foot mural was cut, spliced, extended in three places and pasted back on the wall with incongruous additions to its design. More than 60 percent of its original surface reportedly was painted over.

Carli said he was more concerned about hiding seams in the painting, where he had to cut it to peel it off the wall, than about faithfulness to the original design.

Raymond M. Spiller, a Philadelphia appraiser who assessed the damage, called it "desecration and vulgarization of a painting that, in my opinion, ranks high among the notable historical murals of the past 50 years."

Representatives for both the state and Marriott, which last year won the contract to operate the concessions, agreed that they had an understanding that Marriott would preserve the mural as much as possible.

"There was never any indication that the mural was, if indeed it is, a valuable piece of art," said Robert T. Souers, a Marriott spokesman.

State officials conceded that the job was not monitored as closely as it should have been.

According to Souers, Carli tried to get Marriott to expand the project into a restoration operation. Souers said he did not know of any attempts to find the artist.