This mural of a wild turkey, was recently removed from the former downtown home of Bank of America, to be restored and displayed at the Albany Museum of Art early next year. The mural was one of five that were painted in the bank by renowned painter Athos Menboni. (Staff Photo: Laura Williams)
ALBANY — The Albany Museum of Art hopefully will soon become the home of two murals painted by renowned artist Athos Menaboni which were recently removed from a downtown building.
The murals, that were fully completed in 1955, are what is left of a series of five that were located in what was once the home of Citizens and Southern National Bank at Oglethorpe Boulevard and Washington Street.
Most recently the building served as the downtown location of Bank of America as well as offices for local attorney firm Vansant and Corriere LLC. When Bank of America recently vacated the building, owner Al Corriere pondered what to do with the murals.
According to Corriere, he began a dialogue with officials at Albany Museum of Art who led to a plan to have the murals restored and donated to the museum.
“I was trying to figure out some place to put them,” said Corriere. “Eventually I worked with the museum and we were able to find a lady who specializes in restoring these kinds of thing.”
The restorer in question was Freda Nichols, who not only specializes in restoration of murals and oil paintings, but also has extensive experience restoring works done by Menaboni.
“Freda is a world class restorer of oil paintings,” said Albany Museum of Art Director Karen Kemp. “She’s been doing this for many years, including doing over 100 Menabonis.”
Kemp said the restoration process will take a few months and will hopefully be finished around the first of 2014. Kemp said the timing of the two murals arriving at the museum could not have been better, as the museum had been trying to think of ways to expand the museum’s collections, primarily it’s sporting art collection, the Evan’s Gallery. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Albany Museum of Art and its 30th anniversary at its present location on Gillionville Road and an exhibition of the works of Menaboni will serve as a showcase event to celebrate the milestone.
“This has exceeded our hopes of being able to expand during our anniversary year,” said Kemp. “It’s like the planets were aligned for this to happen. We’ve been absolutely pinching ourselves that this is happening.”
In addition to being able to display the murals as part of the museum’s anniversary, Kemp said its a considerable achievement that the works will remain in Albany, since they depict flora and fauna found in southwest Georgia.
“We think this is an extraordinary opportunity to retain them in Albany where they’ll be appreciated,” Kemp said. “We think it’s so important for the citizens of this community to get to appreciate them on a regular basis.”
Kemp said the murals were highly sought after by other museums,but that through the help of benefactors like Corriere, both murals will likely remain in Albany. Corriere has agreed to donate one of the murals and the museum is working with other donors to secure the second one.
“We’re hopeful that a donor or donors will assist us with the acquisition of the second mural,” added Kemp. “It’s our hope that the two murals can stay together. They are majestic.”
Menaboni, an Italian-born painter who worked almost exclusively in Georgia, is known throughout the art community as one of the foremost artists of wildlife, primarily birds. In addition to his nature-themed oil paintings, he was also a widely known painter of murals, having been commissioned by several prominent Atlanta residents to paint murals in private residences and public buildings.
According to Russell Clayton, who is one of the foremost experts on the work of Menaboni, the majority of his early murals depicted historical events, such as renderings of Oglethorpe arriving in Georgia.
“Many of his early commissions were historical in nature,” said Clayton. “That’s what he was commissioned for.”
It was when he started painting birds, however, that Menaboni began making a name for himself as one of the foremost naturalist painters of his era.
“After doing murals for years, he returned to his childhood passion, birds” Clayton added. “He became very very famous for his birds.”
Menaboni was first recognized for his skill painting birds during the 1940s when began designing a series of yearly Christmas cards for Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff. Every year, from 1941 to 1984, Menaboni designed a greeting card Woodruff and his wife could send to friends and family. Each card depicted a bird that could be found on Woodruff’s ranch in Wyoming or on his south Georgia plantation, Ichauway.
In fact, it was Menaboni’s painting for Woodruff’s 1948 card that arguably became his most famous work and established his place in Georgia’s history. The subject of that work was Georgia’s state bird the Brown Thrasher and its state flower, the Cherokee Rose. Woodruff was so impressed by that year’s card, that in 1950 he paid for large lithographs of the painting to be produced and distributed. The Atlanta Historical Society then sent copies to every public school in the state. The painting was subsequently used for decades in State of Georgia publications.
The Albany murals were commissioned during the height of Menaboni’s popularity by Mills B Lane Jr., then President of C &S, who had Menaboni paint murals in bank locations throughout the state.
The two murals that remain in Albany today bring together the two things Menaboni was most known for _ murals and birds.
“The two murals in Albany are very special, very exceptional,” said Clayton. “They are very unique and were done right in the prime of his career.”
Lovers of Menaboni’s work have known about the C&S murals for years, and consider them a highlight of his career.
“I personally think, to me, Athos Menaboni is one of the greatest naturalist painters, certainly in Georgia,” Clayton said. “Most people in Menaboni circles know about the C&S murals. They are very well known. The greatest thing of all is that they’re going to be staying in Albany.”