After two years behind shrouds and scaffolding, the Museum of Natural History’s restored murals of Theodore Roosevelt will be unveiled this Saturday, September 15th. The three paintings, which cover more than 5,200 square feet, are the work of muralist William Andrew MacKay (1876-1939), whose work is also displayed at the Library of Congress and the Minnesota State House of Representatives.
Unanimously selected as the winner from 25 anonymous entries in an open competition in 1933, MacKay completed and installed the 34-foot-tall murals in the museum’s rotunda in 1936. Each canvas depicts a milestone in the country’s 26th president and New York state’s 33rd governor’s political life. On the left is The Building the Panama Canal, with Roosevelt’s Explorations in Africa in the hall’s center and The Signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth on the right. The rotunda is part of the museum’s two-floor Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall (New York State’s official memorial to the politician and noted wildlife conservationist).
Prior to the restoration, the murals, executed in oil paint on linen, suffered from delamination. The paintings were falling away from the walls, with dust settling on the wrinkled surface. After a careful cleaning and being flattened and reattached, the murals, running floor-to-ceiling in the rotunda, will now once again greet visitors at the museum’s Central Park West entrance. The unveiling marks the end of a two-year conservation project, part of the ongoing $40 million renovation of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial as well as the building’s Central Park West facade.