COLUMBIA — Campus workers renovating the fourth floor of Jesse Hall discovered a wall mural behind pegboard panels above a chalkboard in the KBIA/91.3 FM offices Wednesday morning. The mural was initially rumored to be the work of famed Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton but is now believed to be have been painted by James Hatfield, a former MU Art Department treasurer.
John Bailey, KBIA program director, saw part of the mural, which remains covered with pegboard because of ongoing asbestos removal on the fourth floor of Jesse Hall.
The mural appears to depict an art class with a male model posing in front of a semi-circle of art students, Bailey said. He estimates the size to be 3 feet by 6 feet.
"My first thought was that it was a Benton," Bailey said. "I'm certainly not an art historian, but a mural in that style, in this area - more than one of us were thinking that independently. It might have been wishful thinking."
John Murray, Jesse Hall building coordinator, and Alex Barker, director of MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology, inspected the mural Wednesday afternoon as rumors spread that it could have been painted by Benton.
At first glance, Barker suspected the work might have been painted by Missouri artist Frederick Shane.
"The name of the artist wasn't seen at first because dust and cobwebs were covering it up," Murray said.
But after some dusting, there was the name, near the lower right-hand corner: James Hatfield - 1941.
Although it is likely that Hatfield is the artist, Barker said there is no way to be sure at this time.
Barker is searching through artists' and university records for possible information on Hatfield. An initial investigation centers on a page in the 1935 MU yearbook that lists Hatfield as treasurer of the College of Fine Arts.
The fourth floor of Jesse Hall housed the MU Art Department until the early 1960s, Barker said.
The mural, which appears to be painted directly onto the wall, could be difficult to remove. Since its location could allow public viewings, the mural may remain in place, Barker said.
The restoration process will depend on the techniques and paints used to create the mural.
"What I've seen of the mural has been by bending back the pegboard and peering at it from an acute angle with not great lighting," Barker said. "It appears to be in fairly good shape."
Renovations and asbestos removal in the KBIA offices are complicating the investigation. The mural currently sits behind several layers of plastic walls.
Museum staff members hope to better assess the mural once the asbestos removal is complete and the mural can be completely uncovered.
Phil Shocklee, associate director of campus facilities, said the mural will not be accessible before Monday.
The notion that an unknown Benton masterwork could have been discovered in Jesse Hall caused a stir at KBIA.
"We were all psyched for ‘Antiques Roadshow' to come by," Bailey joked.
Still, the emergence of the mural is a rare find, Benton or no Benton.
"I've been here for eight years and had no idea," said Karen Walker, KBIA operations and music director. "It's a nice surprise in our remodel."