Dehumidifiers whir inside the sealed room housing one of John Biggers’ murals in Third Ward. Fine Japanese tissue paper dots the mural where paint had begun to pop off, and damage is still evident in the ceiling above. Though the historic artwork underwent treatment for damage suffered as a result of Hurricane Harvey, a full professional restoration job cannot be completed until enough funds are secured to first repair the roof of the building that houses the Biggers masterpiece.
“We’re praying again that some company will be able to help us,” said Charlotte Kelly Bryant, the founding president of the Blue Triangle Multi-Cultural Association, which owns the building housing the mural.
The Houston Endowment has provided an initial $258,000 to repair the building’s roof, but at least $200,000 more is needed to complete the restoration on the 1953, “Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education,” which is painted onto a wall inside the nonprofit’s headquarters.
In the aftermath of Harvey, rainwater seeped into a wall of the Blue Triangle Community Center, causing it to swell and in the process pop off the mural’s paint. Moisture collected in the mural’s room causing black mold to grow on the painting.
Staff from the Houston Museum of Fine Arts worked to stabilize the mural, partially covering the roof overhead, using dehumidifiers, and adding the Japanese tissue paper into the gaps formed by the popping off paint, said David Bomford, chairman of conservation at the museum.
Though no further damage is expected, Bomford said a full restoration plan is needed to preserve what he and other experts call one of Biggers’ largest masterpieces.
“It is one of the most important artworks in Houston,” Bomford said. “It kind of transcends monetary value.”
Some funding has been earmarked for the mural’s restoration. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Texas Historical Commission each provided $30,000 toward its permanent repair. The Kinder Foundation has given $100,000 for the mural’s restoration as well as the upkeep of the mural’s immediate environment.