Architectural art experts are beginning the delicate work of removing the historic Greenwood mural from the ballroom of the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center.
The mural must be removed because the existing portion of the University Center will be demolished as construction continues on the new, much larger Student Union. The first phase of construction should be completed in late 2014 or early 2015, when the remainder of the University Center will be demolished so phase two of the construction can commence.
EverGreene Architectural Arts from New York has been hired to clean the mural and remove it from the cinder block wall. The process is expected to take several weeks.
Originally known as The History of Tennessee the twenty-nine-by-six-foot, 300-pound, oil-on-canvas mural depicts music across Tennessee. It was painted by renowned artist Marion Greenwood in 1954 while she was a visiting professor at UT. It hangs on the western wall of the University Center’s ballroom.
“While the Greenwood mural has spurred some debate over the years, it is nevertheless an historic piece of art,” said Melissa Shivers, assistant vice chancellor for student life, who chaired the committee charged with reviewing and planning what should happen with art in the existing University Center. “We are optimistic that EverGreene will be able to remove it from the ballroom wall so it can be preserved and displayed appropriately. The mural is so large that we haven’t been able to find a permanent place for it on campus. We are talking to several Tennessee museums and galleries that might be able to display it as loaned artwork from the university.”
After its restoration and removal, the mural will be temporarily stored by UT’s Downtown Gallery.
“We will try to schedule a showing next summer, perhaps from mid-June to mid-August so it’s available during two First Friday celebrations,” said Sam Yates, director of UT’s Ewing Gallery and Downtown Gallery.
The fifty-nine-year-old mural shows twenty-eight people engaged in various forms of song and dance. The left side portrays Mississippi River jazz and blues, as well as slave spirituals of West Tennessee. The center features a country hoedown with dancers and musicians. The right side showcases the religious-based Appalachian music of East Tennessee.
The mural became controversial in the late 1960s when some people expressed concern over its 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 by UT’s Issues Committee and Visual Arts Committee to discuss race and censorship. The mural was covered with Plexiglas and curtains in January 2007.
UT’s other pieces by Marion Greenwood, housed in the Ewing Gallery collection, include six lithographs titled Carib Caryatid, Sampan Girl, Invocation, Dancer and Folk Singer. The sixth lithograph is untitled.
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