Oops! TSU To Spend $50,000 Restoring Murals It Destroyed

Categories: Visual Arts

Dere's a "Han' Writin on de Wall" by Harvey Johnson
Alvia J. Wardlaw, art history professor and university museum director, decided it best to deliver the news in person. When she notified Harvey Johnson the murals he painted so long ago in Texas Southern University's Hannah Hall had been destroyed, the artist "was devastated" and unable to believe what she was saying was true. The former TSU art teacher of 34 years went to the university and shot video of the walls his work had covered for nearly 40 years, now freshly painted white. How could TSU, the institution to which he had devoted so much of his life, have so little regard for his contribution?

In her book on the murals of university art program founder and TSU professor John Biggers, Wardlaw wrote, "Murals are a degree requirement. Some murals have obviously been more successful than others. After a few months those which do not pass the test of repeated viewing are painted over, and those segments are assigned to other students. It is a great challenge to a student to be given a chance to paint a mural which may become a permanent part of a busy building, viewed by thousands each year." Johnson collaborated with the renowned artist on several mural projects and the two remained dear friends until Biggers death in 2001.

Faculty and staff were outraged over the destruction of what many regarded as two of the most valuable historical murals in the Hannah Hall collection. The initial explanation offered by TSU spokesperson Eva Pickens was, "The paintings were very badly deteriorated and they inadvertently painted over them." However, a September 6th article in the Metropolitan section of the Chronicle brought the already tense situation to a head. TSU President John Rudley said that there was no mistake; he had given the orders to paint over the murals, which he crassly described as "eyesores." Even more shocking was his lack of respect for the historical value of the work, his sole motivation being the entertainment of hypothetical heads of state, and the pompous assumption that they would share his views on art. "When I bring dignitaries to campus, I can't have them seeing that kind of thing. All art isn't good art."

News of the whitewashed murals spread quickly through the collegiate art community, revealing similar feelings of frustration with university administration across the country.

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