TALLADEGA, Ala. — Murals depicting the famed slave revolt aboard the trading ship Amistad, which have hung on the campus of Talladega College for more than 70 years, are soon going on a nationwide museum tour.
Now valued around $40 million, the paintings by artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff were commissioned in 1938 and the first three panels have hung at the historically Black school since the 1939 dedication of a library. Others were added later.
The murals were being taken down piece by piece on Monday and will be restored before beginning a tour of several museums around the country. Talladega President Billy C. Hawkins says the restoration and tour will help bring the school more revenue and attention.
“We believe it’s a national treasure,” he says.
Upon arrival at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center, the murals will be adhered to another piece of fabric and then onto enormous wooden stretchers where they will be cleaned and restored.
“Once they are cleaned, any areas of damage will be restored,” says Larry Shutts, an associate conservator at the center. After almost 70 years of dirt and dust buildup in the library, Shutts says the paintings are in very good shape for their age.
After the restoration process, the murals will be presented next year at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in an exhibit titled “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College.” Exhibits also are scheduled at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Indianapolis, Ind.
The restoration of all six murals comes with a $116,000 price tag that has been fully paid for by the High Art Museum, along with an insurance plan that fully covers the murals for the entire exhibition tour. According to a contract, each museum that hosts the Amistad murals exhibit will make a $25,000 contribution directly to Talladega College.
The Amistad set sail from Cuba carrying a cargo of captives from Sierra Leone in 1839. The Africans rebelled and seized the ship, sailing on a zigzag course up the U.S. coast until it was seized off the coast of New York’s Long Island. The U.S. Supreme Court finally granted freedom to the one-time captives.