African American mural returns, awaiting display at Fort Leonard Wood

Fort Leonard Wood's valuable and historical African-American artwork is back home following nearly six months of restoration and conservation work.

The mural, valued at more than $370,000 and the work of Army Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee, was sent to Chicago last year for conservation at an estimated cost of about $40,000.

"Conservation of the mural is incredibly important, considering its intrinsic value as a fine-art piece and its historical significance," said Charlie Neel, chief, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works. "It is the only known painting painted during Countee's military service and will likely be in the only remaining building that was used as an African-American Officer's Service Club."

Conservation work was done to stabilize the painting, according to Neel.

"Our aim was to keep the artwork in the same or better condition than it was," Neel said.

Rick Strilky, the conservator for the painting, said stabilizing the painting included removing dirt and grime layers, removing discolored varnish, sealing and refinishing the painting to protect from moisture and finally building a single panel to house and mount the painting.

Strilky said it was a great honor to work on the painting.

"I didn't work for the Army, I worked for the painting," he said.

The painting was unveiled on Fort Leonard Wood in August of 1945.

"According to a post newspaper article from August of 1945, shortly after the mural was completed, Countee had dozens of murals and paintings to his credit at military installations both at home and abroad," said Stephanie Nutt, Cultural Resources Program coordinator, Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, DPW Environmental Division.

"The mural is thought to be the only surviving example of Countee's military art career; however, there are many examples from his civilian art career in museums and private collections across the country," Nutt added.

According to Nutt, the painting will not be returned to its original location yet.

"At this time, the mural is being stored at the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex in their climate-controlled collections storage facility," she said.

Nutt added they are investigating the feasibility of putting the mural on temporary display in a public place, but the mural will be returned to Building 2101, the former World War II era Black Officers Club, when the building rehabilitation is complete.

Building 2101 will be converted into a classroom facility, and renovations are expected to be complete in May 2018.

For more information, contact the Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office at 573.563.4145.

Photo caption: The Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee mural returned to Fort Leonard Wood following nearly six months of renovation and conservation work. The painting is currently in storage awaiting display. (Photo credit: Courtesy photo)

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