CEDAR RAPIDS – A piece of history at Harrison Elementary School will have a face lift, so to speak.
“Transportation,” a mural created by William Henning for Harrison, will be restored this spring.
Tony Rajer, an art conservation and restoration professional from Wisconsin, will discuss the upcoming project during a community presentation at 2:30 p.m. today at the school.
“The project will have two components,” Rajer said. “First, there’s the actual restoration. The second is working with the children at the school to help them better understand and appreciate the unique art available to them.”
Henning was commissioned to create the mural for the then-new Harrison Elementary in 1934 as a part of the New Deal/Works Progress Administration. A protégé of artist Grant Wood, Henning consulted with Wood on the piece and also used ideas submitted by Harrison students in the design process.
The oil on canvas work depicts various modes of transportation including trains, boats, horse-drawn buggies, Indian canoes, and primitive helicopters.
“It tells a story,” Principal Linda Reysack said. “Not just the picture itself, but the work that went into the painting. It’s the story of the artists and the kids who gave him ideas.”
The mural, which is 22-feet by 5-feet, was appraised at $150,000 in 2009.
The Cedar Rapids school district’s total art collection, which includes original works by Grant Wood and Marvin Cone, was appraised at $16 million that year.
Nearly $13 million of the district’s art collection is housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, either on display or in storage. The remaining pieces are displayed in the district’s schools and support buildings.
District administrators keep this art in the schools as a way to honor its art history with the understanding that the district is responsible for maintaining and protecting the collection.
Several pieces were identified in the 2009 appraisal as needing restoration, including “Transportation.” Henning himself performed touch-up work on the mural in 1973 and 1984, but the years since have resulted in the cracking and crazing of the paint.
A grant from the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission will help fund the restoration process. The mural will be covered with Plexiglas once the restoration project in complete.
Rajer calls the project an “exciting challenge,” but it isn’t the biggest he’s faced in Eastern Iowa. Rajer restored the 70-year-old “Communication by Mail” – after removing the 4,000 pound fresco mural from its original home in Marion’s former City Hall.
The mural was installed at the Marion Heritage Center in May 2009 – 18 months after work on the project began.
“I hope to work with the art teacher, all teachers, on ways we can get the students involved in this project,” Rajer said. “Maybe they can do their own interpretation of ‘Transportation’ – crayon or pencil drawings – and we can have a little expedition.”