© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Veiling of airport mural raises questions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 1, 2009 - Frequent fliers who pass through Lambert International Airport this month may feel as though an old friend is missing.

The airport has recently placed what public relations manager Jeff Lea calls "a protective covering" over Siegfried Reinhardt's "Aviation ... An American Triumph" mural. The covering will remain in place through the remainder of the year, as the airport plans to use the space to exhibit other works of art.

Siegfried Gerhard Reinhardt was born in Eydkuhnen, Germany, on July 31, 1925. His family moved to St. Louis, where he graduated from Central High School in 1944. During his adult life, he taught at Washington University and was a member of the St. Louis Artists Guild. A 1960 article in Time magazine noted Reinhardt for his "wholly figurative style" that focused on humanity "as the eternal lonely crowd."

In 1982, the artist unveiled "Aviation ... An American Triumph," a 142-foot mural that depicts the history of aviation, at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Stretching across several panels, the mural offers a wide collection of figures associated with aviation throughout history. Reinhardt "spent a couple of years doing research, flying up to Washington, D.C., and going to the Smithsonian," explained Debbie Knese, a niece of the late artist. "He had trouble actually getting it down to just the few panels that are depicted."

While the mural contains images of such ancient inventions as the Chinese kite, it also frequently alludes to St. Louis' history. The panel covering the early 1900s features Charles Lindbergh and The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that carried Lindbergh non-stop from New York to Paris in 1927. A postwar panel features fighter craft designed by McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics, aerospace manufacturers that were based in St. Louis, while others offer portraits of Maj. Albert Bond Lambert, the airport's founder, and James S. McDonnell.

Knese estimated that local businesses and private donors gave about $300,000 to launch the project. "I feel like it really belongs to the people of St. Louis." She described the airport's decision to cover the mural as "a little upsetting," but her greater fears were allayed by Lambert director and CEO Richard Hrabko.

"He assured me that [the planned exhibit] was only going to go on through the end of December and then [the mural] would be uncovered again," said Knese.

Lea explained that the location had been chosen to feature an exhibit focusing on the St. Louis region. He declined to reveal details about the exhibit but said that it would begin sometime in July. While this exhibit will end by the end of the year, another may follow in 2010. The space was chosen, according to Lea, because Lambert has few other areas in which the airport can display exhibits to the public.

If Reinhardt were still alive, he would probably be "not too happy" about the covering of his mural, Knese speculated. "I think he was proud of it and thought that it would supersede him, which it has." While Hrabko's response addressed her concerns, she hopes the mural will reappear again soon.

"It's for the people of St. Louis, and for anyone who enters and leaves the airport," she said.

Joe Milner, an intern with the St. Louis Beacon, will be a junior at Brown University.