Rescuing the Pugh mural

Saving Academe could be easier than thought, art historian suggests

The author is an emeritus professor of art history at Chico State University.

So far letters and opinions have dealt with the pros and cons of keeping John Pugh’s mural on Taylor Hall. Our efforts now must shift to rescuing and resetting it on an existing building on campus. From a structural standpoint, the present wall will not have sufficient integrity to be kept in place.

Similar to preserving historic examples (e.g., those at Pompeii), there are ways to rescue the Pugh mural. Specialists can examine it and come up with methods for detaching the painted concrete surface intact from the building. At Chico State alone, we have faculty resources in the anthropology and concrete management programs who can offer their appraisals to the state architect on how to remove the mural and reset it on the new building.

It would be a great educational opportunity for our faculty and students, providing the hands-on experience of studying and rescuing the large mural and handing it over to the state designer for incorporating onto another building.

If a technically suitable method is found for detaching (as if peeling off) the mural from the present wall, it becomes possible to reset the entire mural surface on a suitable existing building as if hanging a large framed picture on a wall. Since such a process would avoid using the present wall as a structural wall of the new Taylor Hall building, the cost of preserving and resetting it should not run as high as the university has estimated.

The mural is fondly known with the euphonic name of Academe, but if my memory serves correctly, when Pugh, then a student, created it in 1981, he meant something critical. His intended message was that behind the public surface of university administration there are stiff bureaucracies and strict red tape. Pugh symbolized this by showing a Greek Doric building emerging from Taylor Hall. The Doric order is the most rigid of the three Greek architectural orders (the other two being the Ionic and Corinthian). But the proportion of his Doric columns is far too slender and more appropriate for the other two orders.

We now need to focus more on how to rescue and reset the mural than to preserve it as is. Having John Pugh paint a similar one on the new building is not the same as preserving his first mural. Instead, he can lend his support to preserving his own first work that launched his artistic career.