At Work On Murals For The Rice

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This portion of an October 1998 article, appears courtesy

of the Houston Chronicle. 

Scroll down past the text for another scan of the actual article.

Art, Decor and More

Murals set the tone in public and private spaces

Story by Madeleine McDermott Hamm

Houston Chronicle Home Design Editor

For the newly renovated lobby of The Rice, it was that extra touch of class.  For the media room of a Memorial area mansion, it was a permanent party mood ....

More than decoration or even works of art, murals can create a distinct ambiance in a private room or public arena.  Paintings once planned to fill a blank wall or even provide an imaginary view now often set the desired tone in a space.

Although artists have been painting fanciful designs, scenes, angels, animals and people on walls and ceilings for centuries, in recent years it seems to be the thing to do.  Relatively plain spaces acquire instant atmosphere with walls painted to look like ancient ruins or a tropical rain forest.

During long, intense days in late summer, native Houstonian Russell Erwin put his classical art training to the test while atop a 30-foot scaffolding in the rotunda of The Rice.  As various craftsmen refurbished the elegant lobby of the historical Houston hotel, now converted to residential lofts, Erwin and his assistants painted six murals into the curves where columns meet the vaulted ceiling.

Factoring in delays and other aspects of the project, each mural was completed in an average of two days.  Erwin says the "classical" paintings were inspired by imagery used by painters Lord Frederic Leighton, C.A. Lenoir and J.W. Waterhouse. 

The first stage of Erwin's Rice project involved the creation of two murals for the ballroom.  While the rotunda murals were sketched and painted on the walls, the ballroom murals were painted on canvas, then mounted on opposite walls high above the room.

Erwin said the project started with "one unsigned and irreparably damaged original mural from the Rice Hotel."  He said the 6-foot-by-36-foot canvas, found in the basement, could possibly be 100 years old and had obviously been exposed to high heat and humidity for many years.

"The old mural was full of holes and parts of the canvas were completely rotten.  Worst of all, (it) had never been varnished, and the oil paint was rapidly disintegrating," Erwin said.

After restoration was ruled out, the choice was a new mural based on the canvas, expanded by about a third.  Erwin says the original mural appears to have been painted by a theatrical or scenic artist using a decorous Neoclassical, Victorian style.

To create the new mural for the west wall above the stage, as well as one for the opposite wall, Erwin altered and adapted other works in the style of the original.  When finished, the new murals received an umber glaze, simulating an antique patina....

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                                                                                             Buster Dean photos / Chronicle


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