Artist and professional art restorer Mark Larson has painstakingly renewed three of the damaged panels.
Nancy Edmonds Hanson
A mammoth mural by Moorhead artist Cyrus Running is being brought back to life, thanks to a campaign sparked by artists whom he mentored during his 34 years as chair of the Concordia College Art Department.
The Rourke Art Gallery and Museum is raising funds to complete restoration of the mural Running painted in 1966 on the wall of the college’s Ylvisaker Library. It’s a massive undertaking for the monumental work, 54 feet wide by 8 feet 6 inches high – nearly as broad as the front of the museum itself.
“We hope to be able to exhibit the entire restored mural – all 13 4-foot-wide panels – in October 2024,” says gallery director and curator Jonathan Rutter, “and we’ve begun looking for a permanent home in a public space where it will be on perpetual view.”
Artist Running’s influence can be seen throughout Moorhead, Fargo and the region, where many of the best-known and most successful artists of the past 75 years developed their talents under his tutelage. The founder of Concordia’s art program, he chaired the department until his retirement in 1974. His vast corps of former students includes many of the area’s best-known and most successful artists, among them Charles Beck, Paul Allen, Philip Thompson, Betty Strand, Kay Ornberg, David Hetland and Walter Piehl. While several major commissions grace local churches, Running’s most widely known contribution beyond the campus is the tradition of expansive liturgical murals for the Concordia Christmas concerts that he initiated.
The mural now under restoration abruptly disappeared from the college library in 2011, when a team of students was employed to remove the canvas from the wall of the “Fish Bowl,” the reserve reading room in which it had been painted and over which it presided for two generations. Water from a leaking roof, coupled with the predictable blemishes of time, had badly damaged portions of its painted surface and substrate. Loosely folded, the canvas sections found their way to former student James O’Rourke’s gallery on Main Avenue, where they were stored for the next dozen years.
Several of Running’s former students searched for ways to bring the iconic artwork back. Ten years ago, photographers Mark Strand and Mark Anthony documented it, section by section, and Dan Johnson put together a digital recreation of the entire span. Strand recruited Mark Larson, another of Running’s former students, a successful artist with skills in the demanding techniques, who took the project on as a tribute to his teacher and mentor.
So far, Larson has completed three panels, about 100 square feet. It’s delicate work – first gently flattening the original canvas, then lining it with a fresh fabric layer and adhering it to aluminum panels to keep it rigid. Cleaning, repairing and repainting damaged areas, and varnishing complete the process. He has spent about 250 hours so far on the first trio of floor-to-ceiling panels. Materials alone cost about $3,500 for each.
Those familiar with Running’s other work immediately recognize his style in the mural – his sober, stylized figures, his somber palette of greens and terra-cotta, and his sly bits of humor, like the graffiti on one panel, “Toads Make Warts.” The mural depicts a lifetime of pursuits, from children at play to young adults seeking knowledge to elders, older and wiser.
The museum has carried on a quiet fund-raising campaign since the launch of its 60th Anniversary Fund in 2020. “We’ve targeted our requests to Running enthusiasts – his former students, the art community, Concordia alumni,” Rutter reports. For more information, go to www.therourke.org.