architecture campus buildings Joseph Cox McIver Building Modernist mural Uncategorized

Turn on McIver: A Student-Led Drive to Relight the Mural on the McIver Building

In an earlier blog post, we discussed professor and artist, Joseph H. Cox’s, McIver Building mural and its controversial lighting as well as the many changes that occurred to the lighting at the beginning of the McIver Building’s life on UNCG’s campus. In this post, we’ll follow up on what happened after the lights went off on the McIver mural in in the late 1960s.

McIver Building mural lighting as originally designed – McIver Building Mural with red and green lights, Joe Cox Papers, MC 00406, Special Collections Research Center, NC State University Libraries, Raleigh, NC

Sometime after the lights were changed from their original alternating red and green in 1961, the lights went dark forever. Maintenance of the lights had been a problem for years by the time that H.L. Ferguson (Business Manager of Woman’s College and Ex-Officio member of the Buildings and Grounds Committee) recalled that “sometime after I came to this campus [in 1962], the lights were out for awhile, needing repairs.” In fact, “the lights had been off for several weeks and no one had commented on that fact.” This led Ferguson and N.H. Gurley (Physical Plan Director and Ex-Officio member of the Buildings and Grounds Committee) to decide not to have repairs done and leave them off. The cost to replace the whole system was estimated at approximately five hundred dollars and Ferguson remarked that, “No one has mentioned the lights to me for the past few years.”1

That all changed in 1972, when some students approached Mr. Gurley one day and asked him about the lights. Apparently, Dr. Hollis Rogers, Professor of Biology, had directed the students to ask Mr. Gurley.2

It’s not clear what sparked the students sudden interest in turning the lights back on for the McIver Building mural, but the interest was real, and impressive. There was not one, but two, simultaneous pushes from UNCG students to turn the lights back on. A petition that eventually gained 1,187 signatures had been circulating around campus in 1972, when the Student Government Association got in on the action as well. On October 3, 1972, Senator Chris Jones asked for a vote on Resolution S-72-102. The resolution, named, “Turn on McIver,” was “urgently” presented since the SGA was aware of the petition also circulating campus at the same time, they knew how important it was to the student body. The resolution was fast-tracked to move forward on a vote of 21-6. During the discussion of the resolution, it was noted again, that the “source of many complaints considering the mural” was the use of the red light and that had been the reason for turning it off in the first place. After brief debate, the resolution was passed.* Resolution S-72-102, “Turn on McIver” stated (somewhat incorrectly in parts):

Whereas: When McIver Building was constructed an artist was commissioned to produce a moving light mural on the facade.

Whereas: It is the only mural of its kind in the United States.

Whereas: All the facilities are not being used as designed and much aesthetic value is wasted,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the mural be reactivated.

The Mandate was sent to Chancellor Ferguson, H.L. Ferguson, Dean Allen, N.H. Gurley, and Steven Underwood.3

SGA Resolution S-72-102 “Turn on McIver” as given to Chancellor Ferguson, October 3, 1972 Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives

After the both the petition and SGA resolution reached Chancellor Ferguson’s desk, he referred the matter again to the Buildings and Grounds Committee. The committee reviewed all the material which had arisen from the lighting changes during the buildings infancy in the early 1960s (see earlier blog) and again turned to Joseph Cox, the mural’s designer, to “re-study” the mural and make recommendations to the committee.

At a January 19, 1973 meeting of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, Mr. Cox’s suggestions (he himself was not present) were shown, again using a model of the McIver building, as he had done in the early 1960s. The lighting changes suggested were described as a “new flood light system.” The model did bring up questions from the Committee and the overall reaction was positive. The Committee ultimately decided to defer action on the lights until “more information would be available as to cost estimates of installing [new] lights.”4

Unfortunately, the last time the proposed new lighting on the McIver mural is mentioned is in the Annual Report of the Building and Grounds Committee for the academic year 1972-1973. It is not clear from the historical records after this point whether the mural was ever lighted again, despite the significant interest exhibited from the student body in the early 1970s.5

McIver Building mural as it appeared in 1988 Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives Photograph Files

Today, although the McIver Building was razed in 2018, some of the mural has been preserved in the new Nursing and Instructional Building that now occupies the same site. The enameled quadrilateral shapes from the original mural have been mounted and preserved, this time within the structure, on the front wall of the new building. Thankfully, the shapes and patterns can still be seen and enjoyed from the outside due to the large glass windows encasing these parts of the Nursing and Instructional Building. A reminder of the building that used to stand in its place.6

Original McIver mural enameled tiles installed in Nursing and Instructional Building lounge areas (photo by author)
Original McIver Building mural tiles as seen from outside (photo by author)
Close up of original McIver Building tiles as installed in Nursing and Instructional Building (photo by author)

1 – Letter dated October 11, 1972, from H.L. Ferguson, Jr. to Chancellor James S. Ferguson Re: Light on McIver Building Mural-Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives

2 – Ibid.

3 – Student Government Association, October 3, 1972 Senate Minutes – Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives

4 – Minutes of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, October 26, 1972; January 19, 1973; March 20, 1973 – Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives

5 – Annual Report of the Buildings and Grounds Committee, 1972-1973; 1973-1974; 1974-1975 – Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives

6 – Special thanks from the author to Carolyn Shankle for the reminder that the McIver Building mural tiles had been preserved and installed in the Nursing and Instructional Building

By Scott Hinshaw

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