- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

HOUSTON (AP) - As a leaky roof threatens a million-dollar work by a muralist depicting the contributions of black women to life and education, a Houston multicultural association says it doesn’t have the funds for repair.

The 1953 work by John Biggers, “Contribution of Negro Women to American Life and Education,” sits directly below water-stained ceiling tiles at the Blue Triangle Multi-Cultural Association’s headquarters, the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1lHONCT ) reports.

Charlotte Kelly Bryant, the association’s founding president and current executive director, says that since acquiring the building in 2000, the group has used its shoestring budget to patch the roof. But she says, “To keep the mural safe, I want the roof above it to be soundly repaired - not just patched.”

There has never been a fundraising campaign to fix the roof or restore the painting, but the urgent need has nudged supporters to begin making appeals.

A waterproofing solution on the two small roofs that affect the mural would cost $45,000, according to an estimate the association received last year. Another company quoted $205,000 to completely replace the roofs that cover the entire 10,000-square-foot community center complex.

Biggers, who died in 2001 at age 76, created the painting when the building was owned by the Blue Triangle YWCA, which served black women and girls for decades in segregated Houston. The building is now a state historic landmark.

The work features Harriet Tubman, who led enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist, as dominant figures. The piece also depicts the work of 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley as well as the detailed hands and feet of laborers to portray working people.

Biggers was among the young black artists whose work was included in a landmark exhibit in 1943 at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. In 1949 he was recruited to start and lead the art department of what became Texas Southern University in Houston.

Bryant said a decade-old appraisal estimated the painting’s value at $1.3 million. But Michael Rosenfeld, whose New York City gallery represents the Biggers estate, estimates that a major piece of public art like that would be worth between $2 million and $3 million.

“The value of this work to America is priceless,” Rosenfeld said. “John Biggers is a very important artist. The subject and the narrative of the piece is extraordinary.”

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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