The City Council voted Monday to proceed with complete restoration and cleaning of murals decorating the Howard Municipal Building courtroom. The work will cost $33,000 and the funds will come from a $2.3 million budget approved by the City Council in November 2004 for renovation of the Howard and Gentry buildings. The murals are owned by Columbia’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
Between 1934 and 1938, MU art professor Kenneth Hudson painted the 12 murals covering the four walls of the room that used to be the City Council chambers. Hudson’s oil paintings depict stages of Columbia’s history, starting with early frontier scenes and moving through covered wagon trains, a 19th century trial and a 1938 scene illustrating downtown Columbia. The colorful, people-oriented art runs clockwise chronologically around the courtroom. But the weathering of 70 years has left the murals cracked and dirty in places.
When the Office of Cultural Affairs learned last year that the Howard and Gentry buildings were being renovated, it proposed upkeep of the art contained in the buildings, as well.
“Just as with other city resources, our cultural resources are an important investment,” said Marie Nau Hunter, manager of the Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs. “And not unlike buildings, sidewalks and streets, paintings and sculpture need ongoing care and maintenance.”
“I think it is important to note, too, that works like the murals in the Howard Building are representative, in part, of our history as a community,” Hunter said.
The Office of Cultural Affairs met with the Cultural Affairs Standing Committee on Public Art last March. Soon after, the city coordinated the temporary relocation and cleaning of the replica of the Statue of Liberty that stood outside of the Gentry Building. The statue currently stands in the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.
To conserve the murals, the Office of Cultural Affairs secured estimates from several conservers, ultimately hiring the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts, based in Denver, Colo. The group proposed two estimates, one for full restoration and a lesser one for only the most urgent needs. The group recommended that the Office of Cultural Affairs undertake complete restoration. According to the City Council, cleaning and restoration of the murals is slated to begin in March, after major repairs to the rest of the building have been completed to avoid damaging the art in the process.
The paintings have not been cleaned since 1978. Some of the proposed restorations include renewal of repairs done that year. Other adjustments include consolidating and filling cracks, removing grime and buildup and applying varnish to improve mural clarity.
Hunter said the improvements will ultimately enhance quality of life in Columbia.
“Having art in public places allows everyone the opportunity to have an art experience, and it makes our community a more interesting and beautiful place to live and do business,” she said.