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Piece of Union Terminal’s history returns home

Cincinnati Museum Center displays original painting of destroyed mural

CINCINNATI – A piece of history has come home to Cincinnati Museum Center. What was once missing has been found, at least in some form. Of the 23 original murals created by Winold Reiss, only eight remain in Union Terminal. Of the remaining murals, 14 were moved to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1974. The final mural was destroyed but has been given new life today as Cincinnati Museum Center unveiled the return of Reiss’s cartoon.

destroyed muralThough not the mural itself, Reiss’s cartoon, an important step in the creation of the finished mural, is still a welcome addition to Union Terminal’s remaining murals. “Reiss’s murals are more than just artwork, they’re history,” says Douglass W. McDonald, President and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “They’re as iconic as the building itself. We are delighted by this donation and so pleased to be able to install this piece now for the holidays.”

The map of the United States that once spanned the entire width of the western wall of Union Terminal’s train concourse was collateral damage when the concourse was demolished in 1974.The 20-foot by 80-foot mural denoted the five time zones of North America and major cities. In the same style and colors of Reiss’s other glass tile mosaic murals, it was too large to be moved and succumbed to the wrecking ball, crumbling to dust and shards of glass.

Reiss’s shattered mural comes back to life, as vibrant in color today as it was in 1933. Courtesy of a generous donor, Reiss’s one-quarter scale cartoon of his United States map mural has returned to Union Terminal. For the first time in nearly 40 years, this map, with its vivid blue waters, rich green land masses and varying shades of orange states, will greet visitors to Union Terminal as they enter the Cincinnati History Museum.

The map not only shows you how to get to a different state but also a different time. “One of our goals is to show our city’s history through the eyes of past Cincinnatians,” McDonald says. “Travelers 80 years ago would have seen these same murals, including the larger version of Reiss’s map. This painting adds to the sensation of being transported back in time.”

Reiss’s 5-foot by 20-foot painting can be seen in the Cincinnati History Museum. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The design of Union Terminal had spaces set aside for a vast collection of public art. The largest set of these spaces was reserved for a series of murals that would depict the cultural heritage of the United States and Cincinnati and also emphasize local history. For the project they selected Winold Reiss, an interior designer and portrait artist who was known for his work in Harlem and painting Native Americans from the American West.

Reiss began the project by taking photographs of local residents and industries. Replicating the photographs to the smallest detail, Reiss painted a cartoon that the Ravenna Tile Company in New York would use to create the mosaic murals on a larger scale. Nickel-sized pieces of glass were carefully cut and pieced together using Reiss’s cartoons as a guide. As the murals do today, they were designed to create a lasting impression on visitors to Union Terminal.

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