NEW YORK—The Theodore Roosevelt Murals at the American Museum of Natural History reopened to the public after two years of restoration last Saturday. Mural artist William Andrew Mackay first completed the works in 1935. He sought to capture significant aspects of Roosevelt’s public life as the 26th president of the United States and the 33rd governor of New York.
Theodore Roosevelt was a naturalist and respected as a conservationist president. An inscription at the museum features the Roosevelt quote: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”
The three murals can be found in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda at the museum. They are among the largest murals found in public buildings in New York, covering a total of 5,200 square feet.
“They are very fanciful in many ways, romanticized highlights of his life and his major event, but the important thing is Teddy Roosevelt as a president had a unique affinity for science and for nature,” said museum official Michael J. Novacek.
The first mural that greets you at the entrance is “Roosevelt’s Exploration in Africa.”
Roosevelt, gun in hand, stands with Masai and Kikuyu tribesmen. All around are lions, an elephant, zebras, and African foliage.
The next mural is “The Building of the Panama Canal.” Roosevelt confers with Chief John F. Stevens. He is depicted with a test tube in hand, symbolizing his decision to support findings that it was mosquitoes that spread yellow fever rather than poor sanitation. Consequent actions saved thousands of lives by eliminating the disease from Panama within months, according to the museum.
The third, “The Signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth,” occurred in 1905, ending the Russo-Japanese war, resulting in a Nobel Piece prize for President Roosevelt, the first awarded to an American.
The murals are painted in oil on linen, each standing 34 feet high and are 62 feet in length. After 77 years of display on the walls of the museum, the murals were faded and delaminated. By an engineering feat, the murals were taken down for restoration.
The two-year process saw conservation firm, EverGreene Architectural Arts bring the expertise of 22 conservators to the canvas. They repaired the works and applied 43 variations of paint to bring the life of Theodore Roosevelt back into full color. A varnish was applied to ensure the restored murals will last long into the future.“It’s one of the top three largest conservation projects our company has undertaken,” said Kim Lovejoy of EverGreene. “It’s certainly taken the largest number of conservators to work on it, in our history.”
The murals will be featured in the celebration on Oct. 27 of the museum’s three-year renovation project. The $40 million renovation also included the Central Park West façade.
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