After a proposal to remove three historic murals prompted backlash, Newark City Council has agreed in principle to keep them displayed at city hall.
The two paintings that hang behind where council members sit – which officials say are distracting and cause visibility issues on the city’s online video stream of council meetings – likely will be moved to two other walls in council chambers.
“That’s a good compromise,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said. “They stay in the chambers and we accomplish what I personally feel we need to accomplish.”
City Manager Tom Coleman said he will have the other walls measured to make sure they can accommodate the large, colorful murals.
“I’m thinking they would fit,” Coleman said. “We can at least try.”
Either way, the murals won’t be removed without a plan for their future, he said.
“We don’t intend to take them down until we have a place to put them. They’re too big to just put in a hallway,” Coleman said. “Our hope is to keep them somewhere publicly visible in Newark.”
Painted by prominent Newark artist Leo Laskaris in 1955, the murals were first displayed at the Newark Trust Company bank on Main Street and were moved to council chambers in 1976.
Each mural captures a different theme – Newark: A Cityscape, Newark and God, and Newark and Energy – and the borders contain small images of dozens of Main Street buildings.
“These three paintings are a picture of life in the city of Newark, Delaware, but they are more than that,” University of Delaware art professor Frank H. Sommer wrote when the murals were unveiled in June 1955. “They are the story of life in every American town in the second half of the twentieth century. In these paintings, Newark becomes a symbol of the whole of the United States.”
In recent years, council members and other officials have criticized the murals as outdated, stuck in time and even terrifying. The issue came to a head last month when city officials recommended removing the murals as part of a broader plan to renovate council chambers. At the time, there was no plan for what to do with them, though officials were considering moving them elsewhere in the building or donating them to a historical society.
However, news of the murals’ pending removal prompted complaints.
“I’ve received some pushback from my constituents on the removal of the murals,” Councilwoman Jen Wallace said last week.
A Newark Post article about the proposal also prompted a number of critical comments online.
“Can we have anything in Newark that isn’t cookie-cutter and generic? The paintings have character and they have history,” one commenter wrote.
“What else is new? They’re tearing down Newark. Now they’re going for its guts! No sense of history in this town,” another wrote.