Jesse Hall mural now fully uncovered after asbestos removal

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | 10:33 p.m. CDT; updated 12:28 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 27, 2008
MU workers uncovered this mural on the fourth floor of Jesse Hall during general renovations on Wednesday. The mural is now believed to be painted by former MU art department treasurer James Hatfield.

COLUMBIA — The mystery mural discovered last week in MU's Jesse Hall is fully visible now that the asbestos removal efforts obstructing it are finished.

The mural depicts a male model posing for art students who are surrounded by persons sculpting, print-making and drawing.

On Aug. 20, workers remodeling KBIA/91.3 FM's fourth-floor offices found the mural underneath pegboard panels. Asbestos was also discovered during the remodel, and the process of removing the asbestos delayed closer inspection of the mural by several days.

The mural is likely to decorate the KBIA offices after the remodel is complete, though it's unclear what, if anything, will be done to restore or enhance the mural, John Murray, the building coordinator for Jesse Hall, said on Monday.

Alex Barker, director of MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology, plans to take a closer look at the mural with members of the museum's curatorial staff as early as Wednesday.

James Hatfield, a former MU faculty member, is likely the artist responsible for the mural, Barker said. Hatfield's name and the date - 1941 - are neatly printed in the lower right-hand corner of the painting, though at this time there is no way to confirm he is the artist. Hatfield is listed in the 1935 MU yearbook as treasurer of the College of Fine Arts. Little else is known about him, Barker said.

The fourth floor of Jesse Hall housed MU's Art Department until the early 1960s.

Barker said he hopes to learn more about Hatfield, but said it will likely be weeks or months before he knows more.

The mural appears to be in fair condition but it shows wear. Streaks and splatters of white paint stand out as obvious blemishes, as does a fiendish red mustache drawn on a prominent central figure - apparently an act of long-forgotten vandalism.

Rumors circulated soon after the mural's discovery that the mural's artist could be Thomas Hart Benton, a famed Missouri artist, but these notions were quickly dismissed.

Still, Barker said it's likely that Benton's style, a school of art known as American Regionalism, is likely to have influenced the Jesse Hall mural. Missouri artists like Benton and Frederick Shane were some of the most outstanding in the movement during the 1930s and 40s. Regionalist painters "emphasized the idea of artists painting what they saw around them," Barker said. "It was a homegrown movement that gained national attention," he added.

The Jesse Hall mural managed to garner some attention of its own. John Bailey, KBIA's program director, has shown a handful of people the mural himself. KBIA is planning to post photos with a description of the mural on its Web site. He doesn't think the attention will last for long, but said he thinks the mural will remain a "conversation piece and a backdrop for our everyday lives."

"I like seeing vestiges of the old campus uncovered," Bailey said. "It's a reminder of the time when campus didn't extend much beyond the quad."

Finding unknown art treasures around MU isn't unprecedented, Barker said. In 2005, museum curators immediately recognized a painting that was transferred from Jesse Hall to be the work of , a recognized American impressionist painter. A year later, the museum identified another painting as the work of another American impressionist, Edward Henry Potthast.

"Paintings pass easily into the world of decoration," Barker said. "Their significance over time is lost to people who retire or move on. I'm sure there are things like that around campus that are yet to be discovered."


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