The Handwriting No Longer on the Wall: TSU’s President Paints Over an “Eyesore”

Texas Southern University President John Rudley is now saying he gave the order to paint over 2 murals in Hannah Hall created 40 years ago by longtime TSU art professor Harvey Johnson. An earlier official statement issued by the university — and an abc13 story last week — had claimed the whitewashing had been a “mistake.” But Rudley fesses up to the Chronicle:

Rudley said the murals, which covered two walls in the Hannah Hall administration building, had become eyesores.

“When I bring dignitaries to campus, I can’t have them seeing that kind of thing,” Rudley said. “All art isn’t good art.”


Mural painting is a required course for TSU art students, and for decades the halls of the administration building have served as a canvas for the works of seniors. “Some murals have obviously been more successful than others,” wrote art museum director Alvia Wardlaw in her book on the murals of longtime TSU professor John Biggers, who founded the university art program in 1949. “After a few months those which do not pass the test of repeated viewing are painted over, and those segments are assigned to other students. It is a great challenge to a student to be given a chance to paint a mural which may become a permanent part of a busy building, viewed by thousands each year.”

Johnson was a student and later a colleague of Biggers who collaborated with him on several mural projects a few years before his mentor’s death in 2001. Johnson’s destroyed murals, “Mothers of ‘the Father and the Son’,” (top) and “Dere’s a ‘Han Writin on de Wall'” (below) had survived repeated viewings since he painted them as a senior himself, in 1971.

Photos: Sarah Trotty (murals); TSU (Hannah Hall)

20 Comment

  • And I may note not all eyes agree on what is and isn’t art. Sometimes other considerations may need to be considered, like tradition, honor and respect.

    Seems a shame.

  • Sounds like TSU needs a new president.

  • Why bother, Matt?

    “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

  • I think you’re talking about Texas Southern university. Texas State University is located in San Marcos, Texas. It’s known more for partying and floating the river than murals and financial scandals.

  • @Gordon: Apologies to all for the typo. Fixed now, thanks!

  • The Chron article concluded with this: “Rudley agreed that Biggers’ work is significant. He’s just not sold on Johnson’s.
    He said he is committed to preserving Biggers’ legacy.
    “I know where the Biggers are,” Rudley said.”

    Oooh! Burn! Now, having said that, it looks like the murals were peeling and in need of restoration. It would have been nice to see some effort made to restore them, I guess, instead of getting into some kind of debate over artistic worth.

  • Rudley and the Texas legislature should consider the same approach to the entire university. A TSU degree has little value due to a poor academic reputation and, similarly, the state of their campus is appalling. Considering there is a much better public university within a mile, allocating any resources TCU is wholly inefficient.

  • “All art isn’t good art.”

    Nice grammar for the president of a university.

  • This seems the typical mentality of many in the city who would rather destroy the city’s legacy and history rather than preserve it!

  • It seems the administration of TSU is following in the steps of Rice University in being completely clueless by showing a total lack of regard for an integral part of their university’s culture and history.

  • Somewhere in Houston Wayne Dolcefino is smiling today.

  • Ok, John, what does that even mean.

  • I am generally a fan of preservation and unwaveringly a fan of art, but jeez, give TSU and the president a break. If he can’t decide to paint over it, who can? Being there for 40 years doesn’t make it important.

  • Dude’s got a point.

  • The fact that the mural had been in place for such a long time was only part of the reason it was treasured by TSU alumni as well as others who appreciate muralist art. Harvey Johnson was a widely regarded and beloved educator who taught at TSU for many years and was himself mentored by the great muralist John Biggers. if you want to know more about Harvey Johnson, this would be a good place:

    I agree that not everything old is worthy of preservation, but these murals were worth saving and their destruction was a callous and irresponsible act in the part of the TSU president.

  • This guy’s not the best at PR. If your more polished, better prepared, second response includes the phrase “All art isn’t good art”, try harder. No use agitating people for no good reason. Just say the thing is peeling/crumbling/turning moldy/etc. be done with it.

  • Yep, “peeling/crumbling/turning moldy/etc.” that pretty much described the Sistine Chapel. I wonder if the exact same mural had Biggers name on it would the outcome be the same.

  • I am truly shocked at some of the insensitive comment that I read. I normally like to do research before I offer opinions. Harvey Johnson is a renowned artist in his own right. He loved and respected John Biggers and continues to honor his legacy. He does not need to broadcast his own acclaim to highlight the insensitive act that TSU’S administrator carried out.

    “All art isn’t good art” is hardly what is expected of a schools leader. The Regents should note the fact that not only is his grammar challenged but his attittude regarding the schools past is lacking.

  • Channel 13 just did a small blurb about this on the early morning show.

    I just caught one or two sentences and could have sworn they said that students were going to hold a protest today.

    I guess it ain’t over til it’s over.

  • Everyone is making a big deal of this, I understand how it can make people upset but what’s done is done no matter how much you can hate and despise a person you can’t reverse all their action. I can agree that this president was an idiot (in more ways than one) but at least there was records of the mural and photographs.
    Here’s another thought for all of you,
    “How do the people who’s mural ‘s are UNDERNEATH these two felt when their creations were were erased for a new generation?”
    Think about this whole incident as a new start for future graduates…Although it’s still a great shame that these works were erased.