Conservators and artists have worked this past year to restore a work of art created by artist George Morrison half a century ago. Morrison’s vision is felt by the people who helped to restore his work, and by those redesigning the building where the mural lives.
The late artist George Morrison was from a small town near the Grand Portage reservation in northern Minnesota. He attended art school in Minneapolis and New York City and was part of a leading generation of American artists working as abstract expressionists.
Known for his intricate wood sculpture and collage, George Morrison was commissioned to create the mural for the Minneapolis American Indian Center in 1974.
Morrison once told a biographer the design was inspired by feathers. Its chevron V-shapes work in unison to create an optical illusion.
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Although never formally named, Morrison suggested the work might be called — “Turning the Feather Around: A Mural for the Indian.”
Sam Olbekson is an architect and the chair of the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s board of directors. He is a part of a team working on the center’s renovation.
“That pattern and the way it's constructed allowed us to take it apart piece by piece, and one of the main goals of this entire project is to preserve this piece art,” says Olbekson.
In 2022, the Midwest Arts Conservation Center, or MACC, answered the center’s call to restore the mural.
Chief conservator Megan Emery served as the manager of the project. MACC called on another team of conservators from Montana with expertise in rigging and reinstalling complicated works of art.
“We decided we were going to have to start the project by doing full documentation with photographs of the mural to basically map out exactly out how it looked and how everything was laid out,” says Emery.
“When it was time to start to start the project, we physically removed every single board, and that’s when we need a team of people.”
Josie Hoffman is an Anishinaabe multi-media artist whose family is from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Hoffman was tasked by MACC to work on the restoration.
“There wasn’t a ton of problems. And actually, when we were taking it down it came down really easily. It was also the documentation of [the mural],” says Hoffman. “It’s about over 700 cedar boards, so it's about documenting and making sure we have all these pieces in the right place.”
Once the pieces were carefully removed, they were packed into crates and shipped to specialists at the firm Wolf Magritte in Missoula, Mont. The firm cleaned the mural again and worked to design a series of interlocking panels on which to mount jigsaw-like pieces for reinstallation.
When the full sun hits the mural at its new home on the east side of the building, the contrast of the light and dark surfaces of the cedar planks is striking — adding a sense of movement.
Olbekson says the restoration of the mural is a part of the long-term vision for community development along Franklin Avenue.
“Where it was on the building ... [George Morrison] was so intent on it being open to the public. So that art was accessible to the community. He wanted it to be large scale, in your face, out, and unapologetically Indigenous on Franklin Avenue,” says Olbekson.
Olbekson points out the mural’s new location on the east side of the center will mean that it has a different experience with environmental elements and weather.
“We tried to preserve the aging, the integrity of it,” says Olbekson. “It was about making sure the original artist’s intention was conveyed in the new building, to do it in a way that will make it last there in another fifty years.”
The restoration of the mural is part of the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s first major renovation since opening in 1975.