Muralist unveils fresco drawing at Cobo Center

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — One of Detroit’s iconic community symbols, the Spirit of Detroit, is holding the world in his hand, which is hovering over a gear. Standing nearby, a Native American man and three women, echoing the Supremes. In the background are the Detroit River, the Ambassador Bridge and lots of trees.

These are some of the symbols representing Detroit that were unveiled Thursday in preparatory drawings for the nation’s only fresco painting in a major convention center that soon will come to life in Cobo Center.

To be painted by Detroit’s celebrated muralist, Hubert Massey, the 30 foot-by-30-foot future fresco will represent technology, innovation and Detroit, and be permanently displayed on a wall near the center’s Grand Ballroom overlooking the Detroit River.

“It is the history of the city of Detroit,” said Massey, a Kresge Artist fellow known for his fresco paintings in the Detroit Athletic Club and the Flint Institute of Arts, along with works in the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and southwest Detroit.

“I want to make sure Detroit’s story is told.”

Fresco is a style of painting considered a lost art. It is created on wet lime plaster. Mexican painter Diego Rivera, who created the Detroit Industry Murals inside the Detroit Institute of Arts, is among the most well-known fresco painters.

Massey, who trained under two apprentices of Rivera, was commissioned by the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority Art Foundation and it partners, Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, Art Works and the National Endowment for the Arts. The $500,000 project is expected to be completed by next year.

During a fundraising reception Thursday where Massey’s cartoon drawings were unveiled, Lisa Canada, vice chair of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority and chair of its Art Foundation, said she hopes the mural will enhance the experience of 1.4 million visitors who come to Cobo Center annually.

“Our mission is to create an enhanced visitor experience through art created by local, regional and national artists,” said Canada. “We hope to have our public art initiative illustrate the accomplishments, future goals and cultural identity of the region for all our visitors.”

Maureen Devine, Cobo art curator, said another hope is it will spark a revolution in Detroit’s art scene.

“We’re hoping to inspire other fresco painters in Detroit, and make the city a fresco destination,” Devine said. “We could be like Mexico City, where people come from all over the world to see the fresco paintings.”

The reception was attended by artists and art supporters from the region. Among the crowd was DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons, who said it was great that another piece of art was going to be part of Detroit.

“Art is community,” Salort-Pons said. “People gather around art. They feel it is part of their lives. They protect it. They talk about it. It is a class for understanding.”

Marla Donovan, a DIA board member, added that art needs to accessible.

“It should be in the community,” Donovan said. “It should be part of daily life.”