Richmond museum sets date to unveil restored Victor Arnautoff mural

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Richmond museum sets date to unveil restored Victor Arnautoff mural
Richmond Industrial City mural (Photos courtesy of the museum).

By Mike Kinney

The Richmond Museum of History & Culture (RMH&C) welcomes everyone to the unveiling of the fully restored “Richmond Industrial City.” The mural was completed in 1941 by renowned artist Victor Arnautoff and had not been viewed for nearly four decades until it was unearthed in the basement of Richmond’s main post office in 2015.

The restored mural’s unveiling will take place Saturday, Sept. 30, from noon to 2 p.m. at the museum located at 400 Nevin Ave. Evelyn Santos, executive director of the museum, anticipates a “festive afternoon with refreshments, hors d’oeuvres, and small talk.”

“We are really excited about this event for multiple reasons,” Santos said. “First, this will be the museum’s first fundraiser in about four years, and second, this restoration process has taken the great majority of eight years. After so much anticipation, we can finally show her off to the public which brings us great joy. After all, great art must be seen and enjoyed.”

The mural was originally commissioned through the New Deal initiative under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 with funds from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project, according to Santos. It was assigned to painter Victor Arnautoff, who was tapped to create murals for a number of U.S. Postal Service locations across the country, including Richmond.

“As a painter born in the Russian Empire (as it was then referred to) during a time of turmoil and later becoming a protégé of the highly acclaimed Diego Rivera, it’s no surprise that Victor Arnautoff nurtured his art to double as social commentary,” Santos said. 

Santos said Arnautoff studied Richmond “with great pride” when making “Richmond Industrial City.” 

The mural features a number of industries including the railways and the longshoremen,” Santos said.

After it was finished, the mural was installed at the Nevin Avenue post office, but it was stored in 1976 due to a building restoration project, unseen for decades.

“This is where the museum comes into play,” Santos said. “After an intriguing conversation with a community member, our then Executive Director went about locating the lost mural. After some searching, the mural was found in 2015 in the basement of the post office relatively unharmed aside from some paint loss and a moderate amount of warping.”

The USPS entrusted the Richmond museum to lead the mural restoration project.

“After a long wait, that day is finally coming,” Santos said.

The Sept. 30 unveiling will be also be a fundraiser to assist the museum in the future care for the mural. Tickets will be made available for purchase in upcoming weeks through the museum’s website, RichmondMuseum.org.

The Standard will let the public know once tickets become available.