When the "Pollinators" mural was demolished two years ago to make way for a new downtown apartment building, it was with the promise that it would not be gone forever.
The City Commission recently approved a new design for the mural, and artists will soon begin painting the mural on the blank northern wall of the apartment building, 888 Lofts, at 888 New Hampshire St.
“We’re excited about the design and the way it represents the original mural and really stays true to all the principles and best elements of that one,” said Susan Earle, curator at the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.
The Spencer Museum of Art commissioned the original mural in 2007 as part of its exhibition on Harlem Renaissance artist and Topeka native Aaron Douglas. In addition to Douglas, the mural featured six other Harlem Renaissance artists with Kansas roots amid a scene of plants, insects and animals. The new design adds a contemporary artist, singer Janelle Monáe, a Kansas City native.
Before the building the mural was painted on was torn down, the museum came to an agreement with the apartment building’s development group, led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor. The development group agreed to pay $20,000 to have the mural recreated once the new building was complete.
“This is a project unlike other projects I’ve worked on, where we’re not creating a brand new design, but we’re actually honoring the original mural and also updating or reimagining it,” said Dave Loewenstein, the muralist behind “Pollinators.”
Loewenstein worked with a team of artists and designers to come up with the new design. Though the design still features Harlem Renaissance artists, it is not a replica of the previous mural.
A notable addition is that the story of the mural itself has been incorporated into the images. There are two places where the mural has pieces missing, looking through to a gray, colorless scene, but figures in the foreground of the mural are helping to reassemble it. Loewenstein said the design team held community meetings to get input on the mural’s design, and that part of honoring the original mural is depicting what became of it.
“They really wanted to be able to show the story of how the mural was — and a lot of the original is still intact in the new design — and then what happened,” Loewenstein said.
Apart from the design, the new mural will be about one-third the size of the original 20-by-80-foot mural. As before, the mural will face the city parking lot that hosts the Lawrence Farmers Market.
Several of the artists depicted are now in the middle ground of the mural, behind the figures in the foreground and the images of plants. Earle said the placement of the artists is important to the overall metaphor of the work, which links pollination and the enduring influence of the artists.
“I think that is visually and symbolically a great way to convey the continued importance of the influence of each of those figures,” Earle said.
The team of artists and designers for the new mural includes Kansas City artist Nedra Bonds, KU student Eugene Sarmiento and Lawrence High School student Janada Birdling. The design also depicts bits of pollen drawn by Lawrence school children, and the silhouettes of two children have been added to the design.
Loewenstein said painting will begin within the next week or two, and will include community painting days. He expects the new mural will be complete about mid-June.