Paul Muller is an architect and executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association.
Three more of the Union Terminal murals will arrive in Cincinnati this weekend. In an excellent example of regional cooperation, the City of Cincinnati, the Duke Energy Center, Hamilton County commissioners and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport have worked together to move the murals to a temporary home on the west side of the convention center.
That brings up three thoughts: It is wonderful to have them back in Cincinnati; thank you to all who worked together to arrange the move; and let’s make sure they are not damaged by the sun while we find a more appropriate permanent location.
The demolition of Terminals 1 and 2 created the need to find a site within a short time frame. Early planning focused on placing the murals inside the Duke Energy Center. While there are great reasons for this location, it would have required structural changes that could not be completed in time, and it turned out that even the center’s vast public areas were not large enough for all nine returning murals.
The sidewalk on the western side of the center is not ideal but, with the right safeguards in place, it can serve as a temporary landing spot while a search for a more appropriate site is undertaken.
The murals will be housed in a climate-controlled enclosure with solar shades activated according to an art conservator’s recommendations. It is right to take great care with the murals. Very few cities have artwork that tells its story, even fewer with works on the scale of the Winold Reiss murals. They are cherished by the people of Cincinnati and deserve a more fitting place.
The reason they resonate so strongly with the public is they tell a story with roots in the history of the region. In 1850, Cincinnati was the third most important manufacturing city in the nation. When Reiss created the artwork in 1932, he sought to depict the industrial energy of Cincinnati. He departed from the then fashionable glorification of abstract, idealized workers and chose instead to use real people doing real jobs.
Reiss did not stop with realism through. He applied his profound artistic skills to meld men and machines in an extraordinary, sweeping story of the people creating Cincinnati’s industrial prosperity. These artworks have value on a civic level that can only be realized in a more central, active location.
In an effort to find a permanent site that incorporates the murals into the life of the city, Cincinnati Preservation Association is working with the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati. The working group will ask the public to participate in workshops and planning sessions with the goal of identifying a permanent location for these unique works of art.
Watch for announcements of the project. In the meantime, congratulations to all of the dedicated people at the City of Cincinnati for managing the return of the murals.