Monday, May 14, 2012

The Mural That Almost Never Was

When I left you on Friday I had just finished telling you about how master designer, Tony Heinsbergen, wanted to put a mural on the ceiling of the newly renovated Orpheum but that wasn't in the budget. Tony kept arguing that the ceiling needed a mural and the architects kept having to say no. Finally Heinsbergen made them an offer they couldn't refuse so the architects paid for the mural out of their own pockets. (Eventually they were able to get the Vancouver Foundation to reimburse them the monies.)

During the winter of 1975/76 the mural was painted on 24 large canvas panels in his Los Angeles studio. Heinsbergen and his 61-year-old cousin and associate of 45 years, Frank Bouman, oversaw the work.  The panels were then shipped to Vancouver where they attached to the dome. Heinsbergen, Bouman and their assistants then added final details and background on the site.

The mural that Heinsbergen and his staff created may be mythical but some of the people in the painting are based on real people. There is a bearded man serenading a muse and that man is architect Paul Merrick. Merrick supplied Heinsbergen with photos of his children and they are up there in different guises as well. There is a tiger in the mural and that is to represent Heinsbergen's Nova Scotia born wife who Tony referred to as his 'little tiger'. Project architect Ron Nelson is the man conducting the orchestra.

The mural was 75 feet by 50 feet. The technique that Heinsbergen used to attach the canvas to the dome, to make it flexible enough, was a formula that his master in the Netherlands had used. Before sailing to the United States, Heinsbergen had asked his master for his secret. As Heinsbergen went to board the ship that would take him to his new land, his master gave him an envelope he was to open once at sea. In it was the formula and Heinsbergen used that for over seventy years.

Heinsbergen told a Los Angeles interviewer that he was most proud of the mural he created for the Vancouver Orpheum. (He celebrated his 82nd birthday while working on it) His previous decoration that he had done in 1927 had been covered with felt and plastered over. This time though his work should remain for people to see for many more decades.

The Orpheum wasn't Heinsbergen's first foray into Vancouver. He had worked on the former Orpheum in 1918. From 1916 to 1924, he visited three times to work on the first Pantages Theatre, which was at 20 West Hastings.

On June 14, 1981, at the age of 86, Tony Heinsbergen died. However, the work has left behind will be admired for generations to come.

Thank you goes to The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website for the above information.
I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. Thank you so much for this story on Tony Heinsbergen. We conduct tours of the Orpheum every Tues, Thurs and Sat mronings at 11am. Tour is by donation. Call 604 665 3470 or....

    1. Thank you for the information! I will have take advantage of that.