Large, Dramatic Ceiling Mural Is Hall's Crowning Glory
Since You Asked :The Bushnell
October 24, 2007
Q: Can you tell me about the painted ceiling at The Bushnell and the symbolism of the images? A.H., Avon.
A: The 2,800-seat Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall opened Jan. 13, 1930. Its magnificent ceiling mural was the work of renowned muralist and painter Barry Faulkner of New York City. Commissioned by Bushnell's construction project manager and first managing director, William H. Mortensen, the 187-by-40-foot oil painting is the largest hand-painted ceiling mural in the U.S. It was painted in panels and took five months to complete, including three months to trace out the design.
Faulkner rented a large hall in New York to get the proper height for the suspension and hired three Prix de Rome art scholarship winners to assist him. He titled the mural "Drama." It represents ancient traditions and new ideas. In it, the Muse of Drama is seated. She holds masks of comedy and tragedy in her outstretched hands. Surrounding her are the heavens and symbols of changing musical and dramatic expression.
At her feet are symbols of the constellations and zodiac: Sagittarius the archer; Cancer the crab; Cassiopeia the crown; the Greater and Lesser Bears - the big and little dipper; and more. Above her are symbols of a new era in America - new in the 1920s: Al Jolson in his first talking picture, "The Jazz Singer," tipping his top hat to the cosmos, while a crouched cameraman records the event. Out of the clouds rise skyscrapers that pierce a giant sunburst, across which flies a fleet of planes - harbingers of man's attempt to conquer space.
Painted in flat oil on canvas, the mural has a foundation of wood and papier-maché. It is suspended from the hall's roof by metal braces. This gives it an absorptive quality which adds to the acoustic effects already gained by stepping up the ceiling from the stage to the rear of the hall. Stood on end, the ceiling would be as tall as a 15-story apartment building.
The mural was completed in 1929 at a cost of $50,000. The cost to clean the painting was $140,000 in the 1980s.
Faulkner's murals can be found in the National Archives building in Washington, the RCA building at Rockefeller Center in New York, the John Hancock Building in Boston and the New Hampshire and Oregon state capitol buildings.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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