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Mural's demise a distress

February 16, 2009

The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts held an official tour last week, and in celebration, the City of Hagerstown decided to scrub away the large mural on the side of the Elizabeth Hager Center.

Painted in 1996, the mural is faded and peeling (don't expect me to make any correlation between the mural and the council itself) and is in danger of falling into the public eyesore category, much like the City Light plant.

This leads me to believe that the council will ultimately decide to build a fence around the mural.

But why worry that it's becoming weather-beaten? I thought the "distressed" look was in right now. Leave it to Hagerstown to destroy something just when it's starting to become hip.

I have to be careful when commenting on art because I am incompetent to do so. As a matter of fact, if you are in the market for a piece of fine art, take me shopping with you, and if I like it, don't buy it.

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But I've never been too taken with the collage of historic scenes -- maybe because it looks a bit to me like the Web site for "Petticoat Junction."

Whatever the case, it looks certain the historical mural itself is going to be history.

As a replacement for the mural, the city is searching for some kind of artwork to adorn the wall, and one suggestion was to hang large reproductions of historic city photographs on the side of the building.

The photos, according to The Herald-Mail, "would be about 4 feet by 8 feet and depict Hagerstown's past ... They would be made of waterproof, ultraviolet laminate material and inserted into aluminum frames."

Uh -- aluminum frames? Have we learned nothing over the last month?

This could pit the Hagerstown Beautification Advisory Committee, which came up with the idea, squarely against the Hagerstown Historic District Commission, which as we've seen has a distaste for modern materials.

The Hagerstown Arbitration Task Force For the Mitigation of City Committees With Differing Views might have to get involved.

One other problem is that I'm not sure that "Hagerstown's past" is anything we want to be glorifying to the whole world in the form of oversized photos.

What are they going to show, the city tearing down the roundhouse? Effluent discharges into the Antietam Creek? Teen drivers cruising the Dual and going through the drive-through at Taco Bell?

Maybe we could hang photos of Ellicott City's past.

The two immediate criticisms of the photo plan were:

1. It would be too much

2. It would not be enough.

Some say the photos would be too small for the soaring building, but I happen to agree with Kelly Cromer: What's wrong with just a plain old brick wall? It's not as if every vertical flat space has to become the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

But if it must be replaced with something, I do have what I believe would be an acceptable idea: railroad graffiti.

It would be historically accurate, tying neatly into our Hub City past. It would be economical -- vandals usually bring their own paint. It would be colorful without being tasteful, and I don't believe I need to draw you a road map to any parallels to Hagerstown here.

But if I do, I will draw them on the side of the Elizabeth Hager Center.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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