Hidden WPA-era mural uncovered behind wall at UVM

Published: Jun. 3, 2019 at 3:58 PM EDT
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Artwork hidden for decades has been uncovered behind a secret wall at the University of Vermont campus.

Perkins Hall on the University of Vermont campus is under construction, and builders recently noticed a small section of raised wall. When they removed it they found something they did not expect.

"It's amazing how long it's been under there," said Barry Doolan, a former UVM Geology Department Chair.

On Monday Doolan was revisiting a blast from the past. The Works Progress Administration-era mural of Burlington's Lone Rock Point was hidden behind a secret sheetrock wall for about 27 years. "I had forgotten about it -- never really gave it much thought," Doolan said.

He was there in 1992, the last time the painting was seen by the public. It was glued to the wall and too expensive to move during renovations, so they sealed it up, thinking it would never be seen again. "We all signed the back of a piece of sheetrock -- we put a letter in there," Doolan said.

That letter helped unravel the mystery -- and history -- of the painting when it was uncovered. "This is one of his earliest works," said state architectural historian Devin Colman. He says the mural by Burlington-born Raymond Pease was commissioned during the Great Depression. One of President Roosevelt's New Deal projects, hiring artists to paint public works of art like this. Colman knew there were murals on campus, but hadn't seen one until now.

"I've always wondered -- where are they? And I think this is one of them. That's why I couldn't find it, because it was buried behind a wall," Coleman said. It's great to see it come full circle and go back on public view."

The 1934 painting leaves some key geological details out. "There's a lot of fractures and things that are not depicted here," Doolan said.

He can't say he's missed it for all these years, but he says there's a certain amount of intrigue that comes with being hidden behind a wall for three decades. "It has been a while. I don't know if my impression has changed any, but here it is," Doolan said with a laugh.

The mural won't be on the wall much longer. It's being removed by a professional art conservator this week at the cost of about $7,000. Then, it will go to the Perkins Geology Museum which is now in another building.