By Mr. Mike Bowers (Leonard Wood)May 26, 2016
Fort Leonard Wood's valuable and historical African-American artwork, that is one of a few rare paintings by a famous artist Soldier, is headed for conservation.
The mural, valued at more than $370,000 and the work of Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee, will be shipped to Chicago in June for conservation at an estimated cost of about $40,000.
The artwork's conservation, which should take about four months, coincides with the planned renovation of Building 2101, where the painting has hung for more than 70 years.
"Conservation of the mural is incredibly important, considering its intrinsic value as a fine-art piece and its historical significance," said Charlie Neel, chief, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works.
Conservation work will be done to stabilize the painting, according to Neel. "There are some areas that are chipping, and those will be repaired to try and prevent any further degradation."
"Our aim is to keep the artwork in the same or better condition than it is now. Therefore, part of the conservation is adding a protective sealant to protect the painting from moisture and other elements," Neel said.
Once conserved, the mural will be returned to Fort Leonard Wood and its one-of-a-kind home in Building 2101, thought to be the Army's only intact remaining WWII-era segregated Black Officers' Club.
The painting was unveiled on Fort Leonard Wood in August of 1945.
"According to a post newspaper article from August of 1945, shortly after the mural was completed, Countee had dozens of murals and paintings to his credit at military installations both at home and abroad," said Stephanie Nutt, Cultural Resources Program coordinator, Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, DPW Environmental Division.
"The mural in Building 2101 is thought to be the only surviving example of Countee's military art career; however, there are many examples from his civilian art career in museums and private collections across the country," Nutt added.
According to Neel, "For the mural's protection, it will be the first object removed before building renovation begins and the last thing installed after building renovation is complete."
Building 2101, which has been empty and unused since 2011, will be converted into a classroom facility.
The goal of the conservation effort is to ensure the mural's aesthetic integrity and its historical significance within the context of its original location, according to Neel.
Countee's mural is a rare example of World War II-era art done by an African-American Soldier artist and rests in a building eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as of 1998, according to Neel.
The 4-by-10 mural hangs above a stone fireplace that was built by German prisoner(s) of war.
Depicted are a black man and woman, both wearing contemporary, middle-class dress, seated in a grove of trees in a lush-green meadow.
The woman's right arm lies on an amphora, a utilitarian vessel used primarily for storage and transport in the Greco-Roman world, while the left hand supports her reclining body and lies behind a relatively flat coiled basket of fruit. The young man leans against a tree, his shirt unbuttoned at the neck and his pants rolled up, playing a banjo.
Countee's scene situates the black couple within the American middle class, a group that considered itself heir to ancient Greek democracy and the Christian tradition, represented by the amphora and the Edenic scene, respectively, according to an interpretation of the mural contained in the conservation work plan.
The University of Missouri prepared the plan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District and the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood.
At the same time, the work calls attention to African-American art forms celebrated and adopted by mainstream American culture: black music and baskets woven from local grasses, stated the interpretation.
Countee's depiction of middle-class African-American life results from his background and artistic training. Born in 1909, he attended Booker T. Washington High School and painted portraits to cover his tuition at Bishop College, according to the conservation plan.
In 1934, Countee received a scholarship to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
He was drafted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in an engineer dump truck company.
After the war, he continued painting portraits of the African-American elite, until he died from cancer in 1959.
A representative from the University of Missouri Department of Art History and Archeology will oversee the movement and conservation of Countee's mural.