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The Dallas Morning News Mural to be stored in Austin

March 24, 2017

DALLAS (AP) — Pieces of art often carry with them their own elaborate stories. Such is the case with The Dallas Morning News Mural, a sprawling work of lush color painted by Perry Nichols and installed in the lobby of The News, at 508 Young St. in downtown Dallas, in 1949, when the building opened.

The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2n1rwO3 ) reports it did not remain there, however, and that, too, is part of its peripatetic odyssey.

The mural, which is 15 feet high and wrapped around three walls in its original location — if spread out horizontally, it would be 175 feet wide — was recently taken down from the walls of the TXCN building on the campus of The News. The reason? Later this year, the newspaper will relocate to a modernized work space in the Old Dallas Central Library at the opposite end of downtown.

As for the mural, it’s being transported to one of its previous homes, the University of Texas, where its panels will be rolled up and stored in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History on Red River Street in Austin.

Judith Garrett Segura, the longtime historian of the A. H. Belo Corporation, the parent company of The News, supervised the dismantling of the mural amid the clatter of forklift machines and high-speed drills.

Architect George Dahl designed the building that opened in 1949 at the corner of Young and Houston streets, catty-cornered from Union Station. Dahl envisioned a two-story entryway “with a mural wrapping around three walls,” Segura says, noting that the planning for the building began even before World War II, which put everything on hold.

By the 1940s, Nichols was a well-known Texas muralist. “He painted on canvas that went up like wallpaper onto the space created for the mural,” Segura says. Nichols hired six assistants, among them such other well-known painters as Donald Vogel, the founder of the Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden on Spring Valley Road in Far North Dallas.

“Perry Nichols ended up painting over what the others had done,” Segura says with a chuckle. “He apparently felt the work of the others did not meet his standards.”

When finished, the work formed a striking history, which serves as a chronicle of Texas’ rich past as much as it does that of The News.

“It was continuous all the way around the U-shaped lobby,” Segura says. “There were no gaps in it.”

The story it tells begins 175 years ago, in 1842, with the founding of the Galveston Daily News, which also marked the founding of the company that came to be called the A. H. Belo Corporation. At the other end of the mural, the date depicted is 1885, which marked the founding of The News. The date chronicled in the center is 1949, when the image “depicts this colossal figure that represents truth in journalism,” Segura says.

The founding year of 1842 came before Texas was granted statehood, on Dec. 29, 1845, and after the Battle of the Alamo, which occurred in 1836, when Texas became a republic. The mural also chronicles the events of Juneteenth — June 19, 1865, when slaves were informed they were free, with the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln — as they appeared in the Galveston Daily News. That alone carries with it an irony in the history of The News.

In 1923, the company sold its flagship, the Galveston Daily News, and did so out of necessity, Segura says. It was suffering a financial crisis because of its ongoing crusade against the racist Ku Klux Klan, a noble journalistic endeavor led by both A. H. Belo papers that carried with it the casualty of some subscribers and advertisers feeling they could no longer support the two newspapers.

The mural served as the centerpiece of the headquarters of The News until the early 1970s, when the owners of the paper, in a need for office space, opted to lower the ceiling in the lobby.

That meant having to remove the mural, which was given to UT, where, Segura says, it never got installed. It ended up in the basement of the Huntington Art Museum in Austin, but no one knew that, she says, until the 1980s, when Robert W. Decherd, who later became the corporation’s chairman and CEO, expressed interest in finding the mural. Art consultant Murray Smither finally located its whereabouts by calling his contacts in Austin, where they found it at the Huntington.

Then came another chapter. Before the mural could be installed in the new headquarters of the Belo Corp., at the corner of Young and Market streets, it had to be restored.

Once prominent art restorer William Fegan finished his work, the mural remained in the Belo building from 1986 until 2013, when the building was sold. That marked the transfer to the TXCN building.

Though the panels of the mural will remain in storage in Austin, a professional photographer has recorded digital images of every panel “as it came down,” Segura says, thus making the mural and the story it tells forever accessible via cyberspace.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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