MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MURAL

Today's blog post was written by Sharon McCawley, a current docent at the Museum who moved to Santa Fe three years ago from Los Angeles. She was an educational therapist and the Coordinator for the Arts Program for her school specializing in drama, opera, dance, playwriting, and visual arts.

Courtyard murals around when they were first completed

Take a walk through our beautiful patio garden. After you become refreshed by the shapes and the colors of the flowers, pay close attention to the frescoes on the patio walls. All but one of these frescoes were created by the Santa Fe Artist Will Shuster. A little background will help you to appreciate their value even more.

Will Shuster (1893 – 1969) was born in Philadelphia where he studied both electrical engineering and drawing. In 1918, he was drafted and went off to fight in the forests of France where he suffered a catastrophic mustard gas attack. He returned home with such damaged lungs that he was given only one year to live. You notice in the above parentheses that he did not die in 1919 or 1920. That is because he moved to the clear, dry climate of Santa Fe and survived for 49 years, developing an art career which can still inspire us.

He was healthy, but not prosperous. In the 1934, he was commissioned by the Federal Government's PWAP (Public Works Art Project) to create a series of frescoes honoring the ceremonies and religious traditions of the native Pueblo population. Shuster was also determined to truthfully present the still relevant indigenous arts; architecture, costumes, jewelry, pottery, basketry, weaving. The method had to be fresco, a technique in which Shuster was completely ignorant. That did not stop him and he examined the writings and works of Leonardo da Vinci, Diego Rivera, and Jose Orozco. He studied chemistry and even invented his own machine to mix the natural pigments which were the bases of his paints. Astonishingly, he completed all of the frescoes in the summer of 1934. However, he returned nine years later in 1943 to make a final correction.

As you face the courtyard, the large fresco to the right of the doors is VOICE OF THE SKY or the "Eagle Dancer." This was not the original work which he created in 1934. For some unknown, reason, Shuster returned and completely scraped away his original image. It was not simply a matter of repainting; he had to thoroughly replaster and rebuild the wall. Why did he do it? Did he have the permission of the director of the museum, or the authorization of the Public Works Project? Is the second fresco an improvement, or did Shuster make a mistake?

Compare the versions and decide.

Voice of the Sky mural the first time  Shuster's Voice of the Sky fresco

Shuster's initial mural for "The Voice of the Sky" as photographed on the left and the current one to the right.