Letters to the Editor

From the week of August 11, 2005

I hope that the Denver Art Museum or perhaps the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center will schedule another Frank Mechau exhibit in a few years. Due to limitations of space, quite a few pieces locally available could not be shown at the DPL -- not to mention several paintings in the DAM's collection that have not been shown for years. Those, together with paintings in out-of-state museums and private collections added to what is on view now at the library, would make a truly comprehensive exhibition. I am hoping the DPL show will increase the chances of this happening.

The controversy Michael referred to over the mural "Dangers of the Mail" is coming to a head. Strictly speaking, the mural wasn't "permanently draped," but it has been blocked from view with a bulletin board and, along with its companion mural "Pony Express" and four other murals in the same building in Washington, D.C., is the subject of a Section 106 process (required by the National Historic Preservation Act) to determine what to do with the murals, which are accused of having inappropriate images of American Indians. After gathering comments from "interested parties," the General Services Administration will make a decision whether to remove or cover up the murals as demanded by certain Indian employees and Indian-rights organizations.

If "Dangers of the Mail" is removed, it likely will end up in the basement of the Smithsonian. A better fate should be accorded to this mural, which renders a scene from our history with artistry and beauty and in no way denigrates or was intended to denigrate American Indians, for whom my father had great sympathy and admiration. My brother and I, as consulting parties in this Section 106 process, will do what we can to find a sensible way to resolve this controversy. It will help to have expressions of concern from those acquainted with Frank Mechau's work. The GSA needs to realize that this mural is a highly regarded work of art and should be treated accordingly. The action contemplated, the removal of historic public art, is precedent-setting and would put in jeopardy any public work depicting a scene from history.

Michael Mechau

The steed is done: Who "appointed" Michael Paglia an art critic? If not himself, then the Art Gods? He could certainly be a better reporter. Not only is he in error about the facts of the "Dangers of the Mail" controversy, concerning the Frank Mechau mural at the EPA building in Washington, D.C., but he is arrogant, insulting and cavalier in labeling the opponents of its current location "art haters." I am an opponent, and I have a bachelor's and a master's degree in fine art -- hardly a vocation that an "art hater" would pursue.

The murals were never permanently draped. The EPA director at the time was confounded about how to balance the murals' 1932 racial viewpoints and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which insures that workers are not exposed to a hostile work environment, as the EPA has many American Indian employees in that building who are subjected to them on a daily basis. The solution at the time was to drape them until they could figure out what to do. There was an administration change, meaning the buck was passed to a new EPA director. The murals were removed for restoration and cleaning and were re-installed a couple years ago.

The controversy has not ended but continues, as the General Services Administration, the federal entity that owns the Ariel Rios building in which the EPA offices reside, has recently invoked the Historic Preservation Act 106 process. This means that they are considering removal of the mural and its companion piece, "The Pony Express," which depicts piles of dead Indians, along with four other murals not painted by Mechau. Please understand that the Mechau murals are not painted directly on the plaster, but are on canvas, and thus no harm would come to the art should they be removed.

My personal opinion is that they belong in a museum as art reflecting its times, but have no business in a federal office building. Continuation of their current location constitutes an assent by government of the sentiments depicted in the mural toward American Indian people, and therefore demonstrates institutional racism at its highest level -- in the federal government, which is supposed to treat everyone equally.

Perhaps the Denver Central Library would offer to take the murals for public display there. But I find that unlikely for the same reason they do not belong in the Ariel Rios building, and that is that in a civil society, racism is not tolerated in buildings that are paid for with taxpayers' money. However, I could see them in the Denver Art Museum or the Colorado History Museum, where they could be interpreted in context and viewed voluntarily. I suggest you go to the website of the Society of American Indian Government Employees at www.saige.org and look at the page on the controversy. There is a link to the images themselves, which are important to see.

Get a clue, Michael, and get off your high horse.

Lori Windle

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help