MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir, and this week, we are calling our show House and Home. So you know the old saying, you can never go home again?
MS. HILDRETH MEIERE DUNN
So, these are all the extra mosaics that had to be cut off to make them fit where they're gonna go.
Well, this next story suggests that maybe you actually can.
MS. KIM BENDER
So this was the top, the bottom, and the sides. And the center is gonna do something with them. Two of them look like they could be benches.
Nice. It's a crisp fall morning at The Center For Hellenic Studies, an institution in northwest D.C. devoted to ancient Greek language and culture. Harvard opened the six and a half acre campus in 1962, and 51 years later, I'm standing with Hildreth Meiere Dunn, Hilly for short, on the circular driveway outside the main building, which houses the center's enormous library. Just yards away from us, a truck mounted crane is about to lift two massive wooden crates up over the roof and into the courtyard.
And the crate is lifting up, it's about two feet off the ground, three feet, four feet, there she goes.
Each crate spans the surface area of about six king sized beds.
And the crate is higher than most of the trees now. Directly above me.
And weighs more than two US mail trucks.
I have great faith in the power of this crane, because I am standing underneath a crate that is, what, 6700 pounds?
And what the crates contain are, in short, masterpieces. Multicolored marble mosaics depicting each side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Each mosaic contains 46,000 stones from 13 different countries. The panels were designed back in 1960 for Newark, New Jersey's Prudential Center. You know, own a piece of the rock? They lived there until 1998, when the building was remodeled. The artist was Hilly Meiere Dunn's grandmother, Hildreth Meiere, perhaps the most famous art deco muralist you've never heard of.
She started working in the 1920s, and you can find her mosaics everywhere, from Radio City Music Hall in New York City to the National Cathedral and National Academy of Sciences in Washington, to the State Capitol Building in Lincoln, Nebraska.
And yet, she sort of got lost in the shuffle. Many people know her work. They just don't know that she did it.
And up until a few years ago, Catherine Coleman Brawer was one of those people.
What was it that first drew you to this artist? How long have you been following her?
MS. CATHERINE COLEMAN BRAWER
Well, the true story is that my husband and I live in an apartment that was Hildreth Meiere's studio. And that was how I learned about Hildreth Meiere.
Since then, Catherine, or Cathy for short, has become a Meiere devotee. Not only is she co-authoring a book about Meiere, but she also serves as a spokesperson for the International Hildreth Meiere Association, of which Hilly Meiere Dunn is Vice-President. And back in 2009, Cathy curated an exhibition called "Walls Speak: The Narrative Art of Hildreth Meiere."
It started at St. Bonaventure University's Quick Center for the Arts and traveled to the National Building Museum, and then the Museum of Biblical Art in Manhattan.
And those panels being heaved over the wall of the Center For Hellenic Studies. Their journey also started at the Quick Center, in a way. See, as Hilly explains, back in 2009, when the exhibit opened at St. Bonaventure, the Prudential panels were thought to be lost.
So, when that exhibition happened, in this beautiful catalogue, written by Catherine Coleman Brawer, came out, the archivist at Prudential took it around to everybody, and all of a sudden, they were like, the panels, we have the panels. They're in storage.
Originally, there were actually three panels. The center one depicted the actual Rock of Gibraltar, on which Prudential's slogan is based.
So it ended up that Prudential donated the center panel to the Newark Museum.
As for the other two...
They asked us to please help find a home for them.
That's us, as in...
The International Hildreth Meiere Association.
Now, the panels weren't in such great shape when they were found, so the Association raised money to restore them. And in 2011, when the Meiere exhibit moved to the National Building Museum in D.C., well, that's when the ball really got rolling. Thanks to this guy.
MR. TOM LUEBKE
I'm Tom Luebke. I'm the Secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts.
And he heard Cathy Brawer give a talk about Hildreth Meiere at the National Building Museum.
Hildreth Meiere was a talented mosaicist and her work is in a number of wonderful places, including the Nebraska state capital. Now, I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I was very familiar with this work.
So, Tom and Cathy eventually got to chatting about the artist, and the Prudential murals, and Cathy mentioned that the Hildreth Meiere International Association was trying to find a home for two of them.
And she just said, you know so many people in Washington, or places. Maybe there's some idea that you might have about that, and these are beautiful things that show the gates of Gibraltar.
And Herecles, aka, Hercules, sailing through the gates of Gibraltar.
And I thought it might be really great if there some institution or place that would really appreciate the subject matter of these murals, for what they were. So, as it turned out, there is this institution here in Washington called the Center for Hellenic Studies. And I happen to know Richard Williams.
Richard Williams being an architect who's done a ton of work at the Center.
So I called and he said, that's a really interesting idea, because they're looking about trying to do something to maybe improve their courtyard or something. So, he basically took it from there, I think, took the project to the Center administration, and they got very excited about it.
So excited that now those murals are making a brand new home in the Center's courtyard. And the Center's Director, Gregory Nagy, says it's a perfect fit. The way he sees it, the image on the mosaics, the Strait of Gibraltar, represents the Center's commitment to scholarship and the never ending quest for knowledge.
MR. GREGORY NAGY
It's the portal to mediate between the known and the unknown.
What's more, he says, after the mosaic's languished in storage for so many years, their arrival here represents a kind of homecoming.
And in ancient Greek, the symbolic word is nostos, which is not only a homecoming, but a return to light and life.
And speaking of light, under a sunny blue sky, workmen are maneuvering the first crate as it slowly lowers down into the Center For Hellenic Studies courtyard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
You wanna go that way? All right, Paul, let's swing left.
When the crate at last touches ground, Hilly Meiere Dunn leads a crowd of staffers and other guests in a round of applause.
Great job. Great job.
You have the biggest smile on your face right now.
Do I? I almost have tears in my eyes. I mean, to not knowing whether they existed or not to finding out that they do exist, to seeing them needing restoration, raising the money, getting them restored, finding them an incredible home. How more appropriate could this be? And then to see all these people that it takes to get this all to happen. That was quite an experience.
An experience that suggests that home sweet home may very well be where the heart is. Or, in this case, where the art is.
You'll be able to view the Meiere mosaics at the Center For Hellenic Studies via private appointment in just a few months. In the meantime, to see photos of the mosaics, and to watch a video of those giant crates being lifted up, up and away, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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