A landscape mural created by one of Oregon’s most famous artists has emerged from the walls of a house in Salem and will soon be on display at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (HFMA).
Carl Hall, a former Willamette University professor who gained national recognition in the 1950s for mixing realism, surrealism and romanticism in his work, painted a mural approximately 7 feet high and 29 feet long capturing the Willamette Valley and West Salem Hills in a local doctor’s dining room.
View a 12-foot panel of the mural from September 18 through December 18 at the HFMA’s exhibit, “Time in Place: Northwest Art from the Permanent Collection”.
Probably the largest painting room ever created, the mural’s public appearance represents a long journey from the Fairmount Hill home to the museum, a dedicated effort by the HFMA to preserve the work of one of the region’s great artists. and an exceptional learning opportunity for students.
Joanna Gold ’22, an art history major, spent the summer restoring the mural with a Portland restorer. She heard about the project during her internship at HFMA, which is open to students of all majors.
âIf you want to work in a museum, this is probably the best experience you can have,â she said.
Even if you don’t know Hall’s paintings, you might have heard of him.
A gallery at HFMA named after him – a nod to his career at Willamette from 1948 to 1986 – still features at least one piece of his work, but his paintings also appear in the galleries’ permanent collections from top to bottom. from the Willamette Valley, throughout the Pacific Northwest and as far east as New York Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Fine Arts In Boston.
Hall showed talent from an early age. Born in 1921 and raised in Detroit, Michigan, his early drawing skills led him to win a scholarship to an art school in the city and be mentored by Cuban painter Carlos Lopez, a well-known painter to the era. Under Lopez’s direction, Hall successfully presented his work at national exhibitions, but his future in art was interrupted in 1942 by military duty. Basic training introduced him to Oregon, and he loved the state so much that he vowed to return.
During Hall’s period of service in the Philippines and Okinawa, a famous Manhattan gallery owner and art dealer, Julien Levy, wanted to showcase his work. Levy’s interest was not negligible – he was known for his support of surrealists like Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, and Max Ernst – and Hall’s association with the gallery bolstered his national profile, as did an article in the Life magazine from 1948 which called him a “magical realist”. . ”
By this time, Hall had a growing family and was teaching Willamette – a teacher discovered his art and then offered him a job – and he was again living in a state he once called “Eden again”.
Excitement over his work began to mount at home and abroad, although the local reaction was initially mixed. Roger Hull, professor emeritus of art history and Hall’s colleague at Willamette, said Hall took Salem by surprise.
âPeople saw him as a remarkable talent and welcomed him into the community, but he was somewhat of an idiosyncratic figure in Pacific Northwest art – he had a very meticulous way of describing forms and to outline the edges, which resulted in very focused results, tightly … detailed images, âhe said. âThis is why he has been described as a magical realist. Northwestern painting at the time tended to be more fluid, more painterly, so Carl’s style was a cause for fascination. Oregon artists weren’t sure what to think about it, so he was a bit of an underdog. ”
Unlike Hall’s detailed and structured style on easels, the mural presents a more generalized approach that perhaps would have suited the environment better, Hull said.
Seven mountain and valley view panels encompass the dining area, interrupted only by doors, an arched window, and built-in wardrobes – even the switch plates disappear into the landscape. The largest of the panels, which will be on display at the HFMA exhibit, represents the Willamette Valley seen from this room. According to family members, Hall completed the mural in 1948 in exchange for the doctor’s medical services.
For over 50 years he remained in the Georgian-style home until a renovation by the owners boosted his donation to the university in 2006. Help from Portland curator Nina Olsson helped was required to remove the panels from the plaster walls – Hall painted the murals over a pre-existing canvas wall finish and the arduous removal process involved mechanically separating the wall finish from the plaster with small spatulas – but the museum hopes to presenting art in an exhibition never manifested itself. The mural has been in Olsson’s storage until now.
Jonathan Bucci, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at HFMA, felt the time had come to exhibit it.
âOne thing I wanted to do was research some of the spectacular pieces that we had never exhibited before, especially the ones representing the region and Oregon,â he said. “That was certainly one of the goals of this exhibition and it was a great opportunity to complete this mural conservation project.”
Since early July, Olsson has been working with Gold to remove debris from the back of the mural, structurally repair the canvas, mount the mural on a new support and restore the image by repainting before its public debut.
After the exhibition ends, the mural is scheduled for permanent display outside the John C. Paulus Lecture Hall at Willamette’s College of Law.
Gold was a student in museum work when Bucci first introduced her to Olsson, who was willing to offer her a curatorial internship. As a child who dreamed of visiting the Vatican to sift through ancient literature, Gold said the discovery of the project was a fluke – she sees paper curation as a career and the internship is a relevant experience for future graduate programs.
âConservation is a very specialized field and it is difficult to find these opportunities, especially if you live in a place where there are not a lot of conservators,â she said. “I was really lucky.”
Olsson, who has moved a dozen murals over his 30-year career, said that “bench work” like this is extremely important for future conservators to understand the physical and intellectual demands required by the domain. But beyond the usefulness of the project, she is delighted to present an extraordinary work of art to the public.
âHall really captured the essence and beauty of the Willamette Valley, and he was so connected to Salem and the environment,â she said. “I think it will be a timeless piece that will never lose its appeal to people who love this region.”