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Arts and Entertainment


Lincoln High mural mystery is solved
Two from the Class of '66 track down the long-hidden WPA mural.
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Senior Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
Detail of "The Spirit of Education"
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Two Clevelanders have been on a six-year quest to find a missing piece of their old high school.
It started as they were planning a 40th reunion for Lincoln High School in 2006.  It turned into a mystery that included a lot of doors being slammed in their faces. But the case was recently solved and WKSU’s Mark Urycki was with them when the two former students finally laid eyes on their goal.

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Janice Lukas and Robert Pearl were locker mates at Lincoln High School on Cleveland’s near west side. Class of ‘66.   Their alma mater was demolished in 1977, but they knew the dominating feature of the school’s entrance survived.  It’s a huge vertical painting that hung in the school’s four-story foyer.  Robert Pearl remembers it well.

“In 1939, William Krusoe and a couple of his assistants painted the mural on that interior wall depicting different forms of education.“

Pearl and Lukas heard the painting had been cut into three pieces, rolled up, and hidden away.  But when they tried to find out where, they were rebuffed by one school official after another. Their fear was heightened with news this year that the school district might sell off its downtown administration building.

“It was only through a (school) board member speaking to a custodian who serendipitously said, ‘Oh I know where there’s some of what you’re looking for," Lukas recalled. "I helped put it there.”

Others join the in the hunt 
That information ended up with the Intermuseum Conservation Assocation. The head of the association, Albert Albano, was asking about old artworks in storage.

“He had been in there and he had seen something," recalled Lukas. "He told me what he saw there were these three big rolls propped up in a bunker. There was no light. He had to climb a ladder with a flashlight and look. “

It was the Lincoln High School mural, titled "The Spirit of Education," painted as part of the WPA’s Cleveland Art Project. All Pearl and Lukas had was a black and white photo of the mural.

But now they stood in the basement storage room of the conservation association as the top of the mural was unrolled for the first time in 25 years.

Cleveland's character, then and now
The top section of the mural was wrinkled but laid mostly flat on the concrete floor. It depicts careers for graduating students. But Krusoe’s mural also coincidentally captured a lot of what Cleveland is still famous for – the orchestra is playing in the upper right, an operating room is on the lower left. There’s the airport,  a bridge over the Cuyahoga and a steel mill.

Senior paintings conservator Andrea Chevalier warned Pearl and Lukas about touching it.

Restoration
"We’d remove any dirt layers and I’m sure there are quite a few of them after so many years," explained Chevalier. "And then if it has a discolored varnish, we’d remove that layer as well.”

And she succeeded.

Lukas and Pearl remember the sooty pollution blowing in on the wind as they sat in Lincoln High school in the ‘60’s.
Painting conservator Heather Galloway sat on the floor with a cotton swab, carefully testing the surface to see if the dirt can be removed.   

“It does look doable," she said. "A lot of times these murals have been very difficult to clean but this one seems much easier to clean than some we’ve had.”

Capturing America
Cleveland had one of the most active WPA art projects in the nation and many works were produced as public art such as murals or statues. (Hear the artists from this 1994 series.)  The director the Cleveland Artists Foundation, Lauren Hansgen, says the art seemed to go in two directions, the social realists who portrayed bread lines, worker strikes, and dust-bowl misery.  Then there were the American scene painters who glorified the country at work.

“It was very 'Rah-rah, Go America, we get along, we work hard.’  It was about propping up the people, a sense of community, of local and regional pride, showing people working.”  

Running across the middle of the Lincoln High mural is the image of newspapers rolling off a press.
They include the Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Press.  Their headlines read, “First television program is staged”  and “Start Transatlantic Service.” 

Read the fine print and you’ll find the name of the artist William Krusoe, and the name of his assistants and some school administrators.

Ownership
Like all WPA work, his mural remains the property of the federal government, on loan to the Cleveland City Schools. Hansgen estimates at least a dozen WPA murals in the Cleveland area have been lost as buildings were demolished.

“Some we know were destroyed.  The real questions marks are: ‘Well, it was last seen in 1965 in the cafeteria room’ and then the trail goes cold.”

Robert Pearl and Janice Lukas raised several thousand dollars to pay for the assessment on what it would take to repair the Lincoln High mural.

And “his is when the hard work starts,” said Lukas.

The cost of completely restoring this four-story painting could run more than $100,000. Lukas and Robert Pearl hope to raise the money , restore th epaining and then find a building with a lobby high enough to display it once again.    

Listener Comments:

Your picture with bottles of chemicals captioned "ICA conservators mix up their own cleaning solutions" is a picture of commercially available electro-plating solutions used for silver and gold plating of metal objects. It has nothing to do with cleaning murals! Please remove the picture.


Posted by: Mark Erdmann (ICA-Art Conservation) on December 5, 2012 10:12AM
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