Great News: Mercantile Art to be Saved

After fearing that the wonderful mosaics in the Mercantile would be lost to the wrecking ball, I am pleased to report that developer Tim Headington of Headington Oil has agreed to pay for the removal of all of the mosaics in the Mercantile Complex and to display them in a public location in Downtown Dallas.

I met yesterday for a couple of hours with Tim, Craig Melde and Jay Firsching from Architexas, and conservator Michael van Enter, who will be removing the art. Tim is very enthusiastic about the art, and wants to keep the art together as a collection if possible. Craig Melde will be coordinating the project with Forest City and Headington.

The ultimate location for the art has not been determined, other than it will be in Downtown Dallas in a public location. Tim Headington is exploring the possibility of placing the art in a single location so it can be viewed as a collection.

I’m also working to make sure that, if for some reason the art is sold and the owner wants to take it out of public display in Downtown, the City of Dallas has the option to take the art for the cost of removing it from wherever it is located at that time. This will not obligate the City to take the art, but will give the City the option to do so.

The removal of the art will not slow down the renovations and demolition of the Mercantile complex. The parties have agreed to work around Forest City’s timetable. I spoke with David Levey from Forest City earlier today, and he is very excited that we were able to save the art.

I could not be happier about this outcome. We owe a debt of gratitude to Tim Headington for his generosity to our city. By saving this collection of artwork, he is ensuring that future generations will be able to appreciate and enjoy this important piece of Dallas’ history.

Michael van Enter and Studio van Enter are also to be commended for taking on such a big task so quickly. Michael and his partner Wes have been working around the clock this past week to determine the cost of extracting the art. Despite working long days and putting other projects on hold, Michael and his firm have agreed to donate their long days and nights of survey time (which they had deeply discounted anyway) if they are selected to extricate the mosaics.

Craig and Jay from Architexas have also done an exceptional job of helping to make sure we saved this art. This would not have happened without their perseverance, and they are continuing to coordinate this project without payment. We could not have done this without them.

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone else who kept this story in the news and gently persuaded the parties to do what is right. I am certain that without that influence, we would have lost this art, either to the wrecking ball or to private collectors who would have taken it out of our city and out of the public domain. Now the art will remain in its home, Downtown Dallas, for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

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Mercantile Art Update

Good news on the Mercantile art. The art conservator (Michael van Enter) finished his cost analysis on Friday, and his estimate for removing the mosaics is reasonable. He thinks it will take about eight weeks to get the art out.

On Friday, more developers toured the Mercantile to see the mosaics. I am confident at this point that all of the mosaics will be saved. Whoever takes the art must agree to locate it in a public space in a Downtown building (lobbies, foyers, etc.) so that it can be enjoyed by the public.

Based on discussions we are having right now with some of these developers, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief. We have not finalized our discussions, but I am very optimistic that we have overcome our biggest concern: saving the art in the Mercantile from destruction.

Saving the Art from the Mercantile

As the Mercantile Complex is undergoing significant renovation and demolition, the art located in the complex is in danger of being destroyed if it is not removed.

The history of the Mercantile art is an interesting combination of capitalism, civic pride, and artistic vision. As Chairman of the Board of the Mercantile (and later Mayor of Dallas), R.L. Thornton oversaw the greatest art and architecture project in the city’s history outside of Fair Park. Prominent artist and designer, Millard Sheets, a specialist in the blending of art and architecture, was commissioned to design and oversee the completion of a unified body of fine art to be placed in the Mercantile complex and to serve as a crowning example of business’ role in civic beautification. It was to be Thornton’s gift to his city.

Under Thornton’s direction, Millard Sheets gathered a remarkable team of more than 20 artists complete the Mercantile expansion. The majority of artists were students or colleagues of Sheets’ from California’s Otis Institute and Scripps College, though prominent local artist Octavio Medellin also participated.

Art of all types was commissioned including paintings, watercolors, murals, hand-made French tapestries, carpets, art glass, ceramics, sculpture, and Venetian mosaics in gold, platinum glass and precious stones. Each composition was designed or overseen by Sheets to ensure a unified body of work and reflects his experience as a New Deal artist of the 1930s. The result was, and remains, one of the finest examples of post-war art and design in the nation.

The art that we are most focused on saving are three kinds of mosaics: free-standing mosaics that are over ten feet tall, somewhat smaller bird mosaics that are surrounded by a type of hard plastic and raised slightly out of the building’s walls, and mosaics that are imbedded into the Travertine walls.

On Saturday I toured the Mercantile Complex along with an art conservator, and representatives from Architexas, Preservation Dallas, and Friends of Fair Park.

I hadn’t been in the Mercantile before. The art is beautiful — take a look at the pictures. The conservator, Michael van Enter, was amazed by the quality of the mosaics. He felt that it would be a crime to let them be destroyed, and it was his opinion that all of the artwork could be saved.

Forrest City, who is receiving $70 million in public incentives to develop the property, has agreed to take out the free-standing mosaics. Now the race is on to save the rest of the art.

To determine exactly how much it will cost to remove the art, I have asked the conservator to analyze the mosaics over the next couple of days. (I’m paying this out of my campaign funds, and Veletta Lill and ArchiTexas have also agreed to help defray the $2000 cost.)

We should have a cost analysis by Friday. Ideally, I would like to see the entire collection moved to Fair Park. Forrest City will contribute $20,000 towards removal of the art, and the City will contribute $12,000. If that is not possible, we are also looking at giving the art to Downtown developers who will agree to fund the removal. They must display the art in public spaces in Downtown buildings.

I will keep everyone updated as I get more information.