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Restoring a familiar work of art

Bruce Hall muralThe mural is 78 years old and it’s been through a lot — “decades and decades of grime and food and who knows what else,” as Victoria DeCuir, assistant director of UNT Art Galleries, put it.

But the mural, a portrait of student life in 1935 that was hung most prominently in Bruce Hall, is coming back to life. Jennifer Leigh Jones, adjunct professor for painting and drawing, recently finished conserving the mural, while DeCuir oversaw its restoration for the Art in Public Places Committee, which acquires, presents and preserves artwork on campus. The committee is working with university officials to determine its new home.

The 34-feet-by-7 1/2 feet mural was made in 1935 and it first hung in The Grill, the faculty cafeteria in Marquis Hall, before it moved to Bruce Hall. About a dozen students in an advanced painting class worked on the project, which was overseen by art professor Ronald Williams.

The first section of the 10 panels shows students studying outside and teaching students looking after children. Music is in the center, with students dancing and an eagle is prominently displayed in that section. Other panels show students playing sports and reading in the library. The last panel ends with a row of look-a-like students graduating.

“My initial reaction as an art historian was that this painting seems like a valid representation of student life,” DeCuir says. “It made me really grateful and aware of how much the university’s culture has evolved and become more diverse. And yet a lot of it has stayed the same. You can walk out of this building and see students sitting on benches and going to clubs, dancing to music and playing sports.”

The Auxiliary Services staff brought the mural to the attention of the Art in Public Places Committee in 2012 as Bruce Hall cafeteria renovations were beginning.

Its placement in the cafeteria proved to be a bit dangerous, with food and other items landing on the painting. It also appears that a vandal used a marker to give one woman in the mural a thin mustache and beard. The mural also has sediment on the bottom and there’s a line at the bottom where some wainscoting covered the painting.

“The people who made this wanted it to last and wanted it to survive,” DeCuir said. “In that spirit, the Arts in Public Places Committee contracted Jennifer to ensure that the mural exists in the best possible condition considering its age and treatment.”

Jones experimented with different paints and mixtures to restore the mural. DeCuir noted the painting won’t look dramatically different, but it will be more vibrant, richer and cleaner.

“The most challenging things about this project were the very first steps of researching the mural,” Jones said. “I wanted to make certain of what I was working with: was it painted with acrylic, casein or oil? What kinds of debris and dirt particles are on it? What is the thickness of the paint? What is the best way to clean it? Once questions like these were answered, I got to work without fear of damaging the mural.”

Now that she's finished, the Art in Public Places Committee is working with Tom Rufer, associate vice president of Auxiliary Services in the Division of Student Affairs; UNT Dining and Housing Directors; and Bruce Hall staff and students to determine an appropriate location for its reinstallation.

“I have enjoyed this opportunity of restoring a mural that is from the 1930's and to see it completely come alive again,” Jones said.

- Jessica DeLeón, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

 (Above, Jennifer Jones works on the mural. Photo by Michael Clements/URCM)


Posted on: Fri 06 September 2013


Sara Cantu at 5:15 pm on September 11, 2013

I love the maintence of art

I love the maintence of art work on our campus, the backdrop of our lives.  On September 11, I have been thinking about Bruce Hall, where I was 12 years ago today when American history changed. 

Thank you for taking care of peices that are so important to our students and the history of our school. 


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