Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center to remove controversial murals | Subscriber content


The impending removal of two Ward Lockwood murals has sparked controversy at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.

Painted in 1935 and revealed at the inauguration of the FAC in 1936, the art deco-style works will be dismantled due to racist images and damage accumulated from their location in a restoration area. The timing of the withdrawal is unknown, but depends on a schedule from a conservator, said Michael Christiano, director of visual arts and museum at FAC.

The works feature two black figures – a minstrel playing the banjo and a kneeling slave with a white angel above, portraying the main character in a show based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel, ” Uncle Tom’s Cabin ”.

“I would never want to show work that advances a racist agenda,” Christiano said. “It is our responsibility to understand how racism operates in the visual arts and how we can do our job better in order to become a more anti-racist institution. In this case, someone at Blackface is a dehumanizing force for black people. It is our responsibility to engage in this story and do no harm by showing work to someone who may have suffered this form of racism or dehumanization. “

Jim Raughton, former FCC chairman and longtime philanthropist, who has pledged to leave an endowment and an art collection at the museum, disagrees that the murals are racist and damaged enough to be deleted. He wants to see the works stay on the walls and contextualized with two accompanying written statements on how to view them. One statement would explain how murals can be considered racist and the other would explain how to view historic murals in the context of the time they were painted.

“It would lead to a good time for learning,” Raughton said. “Lockwood was advocating for the inclusion of black culture in this beautiful new theater. He’s a guy who wasn’t trying to be racist as they hinted at these murals to be. They depict two offensive scenes. for some people. It was a brand new modern theater and four artists were invited to do murals. He was the only one who went out of his way to include African Americans in one form or another.

At a curtain call event in October, a group of FAC members who meet for dinner and a conversation about the performance before watching the show, Raughton requested that the murals be unveiled for attendees to attend. can judge for themselves whether the images were racist.

Security was called for what staff considered inappropriate behavior, and Raughton was escorted out of the building. He is banned from the FAC and CC campuses until he presents an acceptable apology, the college said.

Both murals are located on the north wall of what was originally the hall of the FAC Theater, but is now Taste, a currently closed restaurant. The murals are covered and are not accessible to the public. Once the murals are removed and restored, there is no immediate plan to reinstall them. They will be placed in the museum’s permanent collection and treated like other objects – available for research and relocation.

“Our understanding of racial dynamics has evolved over time, and it behooves us to understand how the artwork produced during this time relates to our present moment and to the sensitivity of anyone who might come into the CAF today. “said Christiano. “It is a work of art and we retain the curatorial skill to set up and take down works of art in relation to what we are trying to achieve in our program.”

Raughton calls Lockwood a progressive artist who participated in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural projects in the 1930s, and whose work was known to include minority groups and their contributions to American culture, as well as references. to their repression. After painting the FAC murals, Lockwood traveled to Taos, NM where he had been commissioned to paint a set of murals for the Taos courthouse dealing with the oppression of Hispanics and American Indians. , and became a member of the Taos Artist Society, a progressive modernist art school.

Last year, Raughton published an article on murals in the Cheyenne Mountain Kiva newspaper, a publication of the Cheyenne Mountain Heritage Center that seeks to preserve the history and art of the Pikes Peak area.

“I have long recognized that ‘justice for all’ is a goal of our society that has not always been achieved. I think the root of prejudice is the condescension that one group has for another based on inaccurate and incomplete information. I think this was recently applied to the murals by John Ward Lockwood, “he wrote in the summer edition of the newspaper.

Start the wall conversation

The murals were first questioned at a town hall in 2018, where attendees expressed mixed opinions on what to do with the works. At the time, it was believed that the works were frescoes and permanently attached to the wall – to remove them would be to ruin them. It was decided that the work would be covered.

“These coatings are temporary as we explore thoughtful alternatives to solving the imagery problems of these murals. We are not seeking to whitewash the past or the present; rather, we are committed to tackling and understanding our history while respecting the values ​​of justice, equity and inclusion. The presence of these two murals in our restaurant, a public space for gathering and community strengthening, thwarts the work of the FAC to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all ” , one reads in a gallery guide for customers inside Taste.

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In August, the conservator hired to assess the condition of the murals discovered that the works were painted on canvas and applied to the walls, meaning the works could be removed, cleaned, preserved and placed safely in the collection. permed. It was decided to go ahead with the withdrawal.

Raughton believes the murals can be restored to where they are and that they are removed purely due to the imagery. He believes the FAC Museum Committee, an advisory group that helps oversee the museum’s collection, had no say in what happened.

“It’s one thing to cover them up and another to take them off,” Raughton said. “This is an executive or administrative decision. The fact that the removal is for restoration is their justification. As with the other murals we have restored, you just have to go up and do it. You don’t have to. not to remove them. It’s a device to get them down. “

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Blake Wilson, co-owner of The Art Bank & Oriental Rug Center and a member of the FAC Museum committee, participated in several discussions about the murals. There is no committee vote to take action one way or the other, he said. Decisions about works of art acquired by the museum are made by members of the curatorial and administrative staff.

“I support and understand their rights to do this,” Wilson said of the removal of the murals. “Like many works of the 1930s, murals represent commonplace images at the time, but are offensive to many today. They are part of our history and deserve to be preserved and preserved. they are on display is up to the curators of today and tomorrow. “

Who is your double?

The museum and CC, who took over the management of the FAC in 2016, are striving to become anti-racist institutions, Christiano said. And the murals are an example of fighting a complex story. This is not a problem unique to the ACS. Many museums are now working to resolve the imagery issues in their collections. Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum director Matt Mayberry called the time a challenge.

“Our mission, vision and values ​​guide our approach to everything we exhibit,” said Mayberry. “We try to create a context and a story for the objects we display. We think about the objects we display. We don’t just throw things at the wall. What is the story we are trying to tell and how do we tell it in a respectful way and in context? “

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