The birds are back in town


Matt Crow

Dancers preform to a rendition of The Beatles “Black Bird” in front of the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State. The dance was part of the unveiling ceremony of the restored Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People) mural.

Wichita State Freshmen Desmond Fleener had never seen the complete Joan Miró mural on the south side of the Ulrich Museum of Art in person until Sunday.

“It’s amazing, it really is,” she said. “It’s surreal.”

She had seen the mural on postcards and in pictures.

“You just see the pictures and it’s cool. Now you see it on the building and it’s big, it’s huge,” Fleener said.

About 200 people celebrated the return of the mosaic, Personnage Oiseaux, translated into English as “Bird People,” Sunday after years of planning, fundraising and restoration.

The artwork was first installed on the museum in 1978 after years of exposure to the Kansas climate began taking its toll. Some of the more than 360,00 pieces of glass and marble on 80 three-by-five feet, 150-lb panels, began falling off the particleboard backing.

One of the fundraisers for the $2.2 million was the late Joan Beren. Beren wanted to make sure the mosaic and other 75-piece outdoor artwork at WSU would have a funding source for maintenance.

Elizabeth King, CEO and President of the WSU Foundation, said Beren left $1 million for and “outdoor sculpture fund.”

“She was all-things Shockers,” she said about Beren.

King quoted Beren by saying “A day without Wichita State is a day without sunshine.”

Beren’s son Adam also spoke.

“My mom would have loved this,” he said. “Back in 2002, she recognized something needed to be done to retain the outdoor sculpture.”

Wu shows off his new shirt designed in the likeness of the Personnages Oiseaux mural seen behind him.
Matt Crow
Wu shows off his new shirt designed in the likeness of the Personnages Oiseaux mural seen behind him.

The money generated by the $1 million investment will be used for maintenance, Jennifer Lane, museum public relations and marketing manager, said. More details about the endowment will be coming soon.

Still, it was the Miró’s day.

Museum Director Bob Workman said, “The Joan Miró is the most important artwork in the state of Kansas.”

He said the restoration required more than cleaning and reattaching the 350,000 pieces of glass. It also meant cleaning and replacing the stone and other surfaces.

“If you do the math, it’s about 1.4 million pieces,” Workman said.

Lindsey DeVries, coordinator of external affairs in the School of Art & Design, has worked in the McKnight Art Center next door to the museum for the past four years. She first saw the mosaic in 2011 shortly before it was taken down for repairs.

“It’s like having an old friend back,” she said. “It’s like looking at it with fresh eyes.”

Andrew Burdick, a senior electrical engineering major, agreed.

“It’s been gone the whole time I’ve been in school here,” he said. “It’s so much more vibrant than I remember. I remember it being flat. Now it sparkles.”

To Addie Wise, a graduate student in visual arts, said it was more than just a piece of art. She saw the panels up close before they were installed and kept informed about the restoration process.

“I learn (about) the engineering that went into the crossovers between art, engineering and architecture.

The Russel-Marti Conservation Services, Inc., California, Missouri, did the work.

Shoko Sevart is a museum member and served as an advisor on the restoration board.

She said the planning and restoration had to be done because of the community pride the artwork brings to WSU and the community.

“It’s just brilliant, stunning, she said. I could not remember this brilliance five years ago,” Sevart said.

The Nouveau Quintet, The WSU Concert Chorale, The Buckner Performing Arts Magnet Elementary School Drumline, and dancers Denise Celestin and C. Nicholas Johnson provided entertainment.