THE MURAL 'Rejoicing and Festival of the Americas'.
(photo credit: AP)
In almost 30 years as a baggage porter at Kennedy
International Airport in New York, Darren Hoggard spent slow days
gazing at the scenes on the walls of the American Airlines terminal.
On one wall, pioneers with sharp, angled faces
and hats rode their horses into the western sunlight, covered wagons in
tow, on a backdrop of brown and green plains. On another wall, dozens
costumed in bright red, blue and yellow danced and played instruments
in chaotic celebration.
"If you stare at that long enough, you might go home and dream about it," 49-year-old Hoggard said.
And then, it seemed, the paintings would be no more, slated for
demolition in 2007 along with the rest of the terminal. The news hit
Hoggard so hard, it showed on his face, and a passer-by stopped to ask
what was wrong.
"Just feeling a little sad about today because next week this could all be gone," he told the woman.
Coincidentally, the passer-by, Beatrice Esteve, was familiar
with the murals' artist, who hailed from her native Brazil
. Carybe, as
Hector Julio Paride Bernabo was known, visited Esteve's home when she
was a child and drank Scotch with her father. She vowed to do whatever
she could to help Hoggard.
She did. And now, against the odds, the murals
have ended up adorning the walls of the new south terminal of Miami
International Airport, despite millions of dollars in moving and
The paintings' 1,600-kilometer trek unfolded like this: After
Esteve talked to Hoggard, she called her friend Gilberto Sa, who also
had known Carybe and his family. Sa was on the board of directors of
the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which was building
terminals at Miami International. Sa, in turn, contacted Gilberto
Neves, who heads Odebrecht's US operation, headquartered in Miami.
"Make sure that it's not just going to be dumped in the trash," Neves remembered Sa telling him.
American didn't want to destroy the murals, but Neves said the
airline had trouble finding a buyer because of the difficulty removing
the canvasses. When workers tried to peel the murals from the terminal
walls, the canvas began to tear.
"We literally thought it would just be rolling it up," Neves said.
But the murals weren't worthless. Carybe won a 1950s American
Airlines contest to paint them, beating several leading artists of the
day. He was paid $60,000 for "Rejoicing and Festival of the Americas"
and "The Discovery and Settlement of the West." He died in 1997.
The murals were eventually removed by cutting the wall away with them.
Doors had to be removed to get the slabs - 12 panels, each five
meters by 2.4 meters - out of the terminal. Each slab weighs three tons
after being reinforced with steel for support.
The artistic restoration process wasn't easy, either, and the
entire process cost Odebrecht more than $2 million, more than 10 times
what Neves had originally estimated to the board, though he doesn't
like to discuss that.
"How do you put a price to art to begin with?" Neves said.