Historic murals on UAlbany's Downtown Campus get a facelift.
For a quick glimpse of the Capital Region’s past, several generations of UAlbany students and faculty have needed only to scan 14 historic murals on the walls of one special room on the downtown campus. The murals, painted by the popular 20th century Albany artist David Lithgow from 1933-1946, offer tableaus of keynote events in the region’s history, from a panel depicting the “Mahikan Indian People” to one offering an early 20th century view of the Albany skyline and the Alfred E. Smith building. Time, however, has taken its toll, and so the University has begun to restore the Lithgow murals to their original glory.
Lithgow painted directly on canvas, which was then mounted onto the walls, each with its own unique decorative border. The room originally served as the library of the Milne School, the secondary school where UAlbany students carried out their practice teaching. The Milne School was closed in 1977 and Milne Hall, where the school was housed, is now the home of the nationally ranked Nelson A. Rockefeller School of Public Affairs and Policy. What was formerly the Milne School library is now a special-events room named in honor of the late school’s principal, Theodore Fossieck.
The murals today show the stress of being in a non-climate-controlled environment for the last 65-70 years. Seven have cracks; others are faded or darkened with grime; paint is brittle and peeling. Conservator Joyce Zucker of the Peebles Island Resource Center is directing the restoration in an ambitious project that is expected to take approximately three years to complete at a cost of $100,000. The University is seeking private support for the restoration through The Campaign for the University at Albany.
Judy Koblintz Madnick, B.S.’65, M.S. ’66,who attended the Milne School from grades 7-12 and spent another five years on the Downtown Campus as a UAlbany student, has a special appreciation for the beautiful Lithgow murals. “They provided a quiet, aesthetic atmosphere for studying in what might otherwise have been just a roomful of books.”
“I think they are going to be very striking, when they are restored,” said Jerry Parker, assistant provost for Academic Affairs. He and recently retired University Art Museum director Marijo Dougherty have been champions of the restoration of the Lithgow murals since 1980.
Artist and sculptor, Lithgow was Albany’s most popular early 20th century mural painter. Besides those he created in the Albany area, he painted the New York State World’s Fair murals in 1939 and 1940 as well as a number of portraits of prominent people, including the famous Lily Langtry. “Lithgow was a great historical illustrator and he did it in a very snappy and approachable way,” said Norman Rice, director emeritus of the Albany Institute of History and Art, which owns many of Lithgow’s works.