Artist, students upset about painted-over mural at TSU

Image of one of the two murals painted by well-known artist and educator Harvey Johnson at Texas Southern University. (Harvey Johnson / Sarah Trotty)

September 3, 2010 9:49:26 AM PDT
Artistic murals that have been around for years have been painted over. It's a move that has a lot of people upset. Murals decorate the walls at the main administration building at Texas Southern University, but now some of them are gone.

Texas Southern University says it made a mistake when it painted over two murals that line the halls at the school's administration building. But some question how the mistake was made, given the historical and educational significance of those works.

Hannah Hall is as much gallery as it is office building. Its walls are covered in murals by TSU art students, and some of them date back more than a half-century.

"It's history, tradition, and it's nice to see it every time I come into the cafeteria or go into the Hannah Hall," TSU student Briana Wilson said.

"I think they're very beautiful; they're inspirational," TSU student Sharnell Lee said. "It's something only at Texas Southern University."

But two of them, which were painted 40 years ago, were covered in white paint.

"Of all the murals on campus, those two," TSU art history professor Alvia Wardlaw said. "Everyone in the art world, we all feel those two were some of the finest."

The university says painters mistakenly covered the old works.

"The university is just heartbroken over that because all of our student murals are important to us," said TSU's Eva Pickens.

The artist who painted the two murals is Harvey Johnson. He says he was "devastated."

Johnson was a student and later longtime professor at the school. He says those works were more than brushstrokes on a wall.

"Most deans and administrators and presidents don't understand that because they are blocked, and the meaning of art and self expression is to unblock," Johnson said.

Johnson has no pictures of the lost murals. He does have this drawing of one of them called Mothers of the Fathers and Sons.

But what's gone is gone.

"It took a little life out of me, and it made me feel sorry for the students," Johnson said.

The school did recently get an $80,000 grant to begin cataloging all and preserving some of the murals in Hannah Hall. It is also looking for additional funding to speed up that process in light of what happened.


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