Last fall, the planned $500,000 rescue of a curved fresco painted by muralist Peter Hurd from the lobby of its Houston Main Building at 1100 Holcombe Blvd. was the focus of a small publicity campaign by UT’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. From the institution’s perspective it was probably a better story to focus attention on than the circumstances that instigated the move: the planned (and now active) demolition — despite the grumblings of many preservationists — of the 18-story 1952 Prudential Tower by Kenneth Franzheim that housed it. Since late January, when Linbeck (M.D. Anderson’s contractor) took the extraordinary step of firing fresco-conservation expert Nathan Zakheim from the job before the most delicate and proprietary portions of the process had been completed — and concerns were raised about how well the rescue could possibly be completed without him — the PR effort behind the tricky operation has been silent. Until today, that is.
A small feature story published in an internal M.D. Anderson newsletter — but apparently not available to the general public — announces that the Hurd mural of a West Texas farm scene has now left the building on a flatbed truck commandeered by Admiral Transfer and Rigging, and is on its way to a new home in a temporary storage facility in Midland, Texas, where it’s expected to arrive Friday evening. Moving the painting to the storage facility was part of the plan all along, but the article makes no mention of what had been earlier announced as the mural’s ultimate destination: a new public library in Artesia, New Mexico, close to some of Hurd’s other large-scale works.
Did the mural make it out in one piece? Will it stay intact for the carefully routed 840-mile, two-and-a-half-day journey? Will its condition be examined once it arrives, or will the assembly just sit there under covers for a couple of years until its new home is ready? The story doesn’t get into those kinds of details. But it does report that a photographer and videographer will be documenting the journey. And it describes the 3-hour process of getting the 58,000-lb. fresco-truss sandwich out the door of M.D. Anderson’s Houston Main Building, and onto the truck:
The mural, encased by a form-fitting plywood structure that was framed by a series of steel beams, made its grand exit with the assistance of ratcheted chains and skatesâ€”small, sturdy rectangular frames of steel surrounding a series of cylinders. The process was slow but necessary to ensure the muralâ€™s stability and minimize stress.
Once it reached the end of the purpose-poured pad, a crane picked up the mural with a specially-constructed rigging framework and placed it onto a parametric frame trailer.
And, after the hours needed to assemble the crane and the rigging, it took just 10 minutes to pick the mural from its pad and place it on the trailer.
The front canopy of the building was demolished in January to allow the mural assembly a way to get out. If it doesn’t break into pieces on the journey, Hurd’s 16-ft.-by-46-ft. mural will go in the record books as the largest fresco painting ever moved successfully.
- Previously on Swamplot: Will M.D. Andersonâ€™s Contractor Bungle the Largest Fresco Rescue Ever?, Sure Looks Like Demolition This Time: M.D. Anderson Begins Taking Down the Prudential Tower, The Prudential Towerâ€™s Grand Entrance, Before Its Not-so-Grand Exit, Update: M.D. Anderson Not Demolishing Former Prudential Tower Yet, Just Hacking Away at It a Bit, Report: M.D. Anderson Begins Demolishing Med Center Icon
Photos: Candace Garcia (mural); M.D. Anderson (all others)