Greenwood Mural: Frequently Asked Questions

 

Architectural art experts are beginning the delicate work of removing the historic Greenwood mural from the ballroom of the University Center. Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about the mural. Read more about the mural and the removal project in Tennessee Today.

What’s the history of the mural?

The mural was commissioned in 1954 for the new University Center’s ballroom. The artist, Marion Greenwood, had won several national awards and painted other large murals throughout the country. While painting the mural at the university, Greenwood also taught classes as a visiting professor of fine arts.

The ballroom mural navigates across Tennessee’s musical heritage, illustrating the distinctive music of the state’s three main areas. Greenwood features the delta blues of West Tennessee on the left-hand side. In the center she portrays dancers and musicians at a country hoedown, and to the right she showcases the religious music of East Tennessee.

The painting is valued at $175,000.

Why is the mural being taken down?

The mural hangs on the west wall in the ballroom of the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center. The building will be demolished in late 2014 or early 2015 to make way for the second phase of construction on the new, much larger Student Union.

Who decided what to do with mural?

A UT committee was formed to evaluate and plan what should be done with all of the artwork in the University Center before that facility is demolished. While most of the artwork will be moved to other sites around campus, the mural is so large that there isn’t a good campus option for it.

The committee’s work led to this plan for the mural’s restoration and removal. Firms submitted bids to do the work. The committee reviewed those bids and chose EverGreene Architectural Arts of New York City.

Melissa Shivers, assistant vice chancellor for student life, chaired the art committee.  Other committee members include Jeff Chapman, director of the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture; Betsey Creekmore, associate vice chancellor for finance and administration-emeritus; Jim Dittrich, director of the University Center; Dorothy Habel, director of the School of Art; Bill Pace, project manager in Facilities Services; and Sam Yates, director of Ewing Gallery and Downtown Gallery.

How will the mural be removed?

EverGreene will clean the mural—which measures nearly 28 feet by 6 feet and weighs more than 300 pounds–before removing it from the wall. Then workers will use a spatula-like tool to carefully remove the mural’s woven canvas from the cinderblock wall. The mural will be rolled onto a sonotube, a form typically used to create concrete columns. Finally, workers will lay the mural on a flat surface and carefully clean the back of the canvas of any residue before transporting.

How much will the removal and restoration cost?

$69,600.

What if it is damaged during the removal process? 

EverGreene Architectural Arts has experience repairing architectural art and will try to fix any damages made to the mural. Extensive digital photographs of the piece will be taken prior to the work as a safeguard.

Why was the mural covered?

The mural became controversial in the late 1960s, with most of the concern focusing on the portrayal of African-Americans, particularly a man who appears to be a slave or sharecropper. In May 1970, the painting was vandalized with paints and solvents. After the mural was repaired, new threats were made against it, so in 1972 the mural was covered by paneling.

The paneling was removed in 2006, and a forum entitled “The Greenwood Mural Project” was held in March 2006 by the University of Tennessee Issues Committee and Visual Arts Committee to discuss controversies of race and censorship. More than 300 people attended. The mural was covered with Plexiglas and curtains in January 2007.

What will we do with it?

After removal, the mural will be stored by UT’s Ewing Gallery at the Ewing Gallery storage facility until a scheduled display next summer. It will then go into secure storage until the committee finds a museum or gallery that might be able to display the mural as artwork on loan from the university.

Who was Marion Greenwood?

Marion Greenwood was a painter and printmaker noted for being the first American woman to receive a commission from a foreign government, a 700-square-foot fresco of Indian life at the University of San Nicolas Hidalgo in Morelia, Mexico.

Greenwood was inspired by Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco’s murals to travel to Mexico in 1932. With the assistance of American muralist Pablo O’Higgins, Greenwood painted her first mural at Hotel Taxqueno in Mexico City. She worked with Rivera on several projects and eventually received the University of San Nicolas Hidalgo commission.

Greenwood effectively abandoned mural work in 1940, returning to it only twice again in her career to paint murals at UT and Syracuse University, New York. Read more about Greenwood at the Clara database, part of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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