Workers Begin Miles Mural Installation at Lerner

December 05, 2011

In a vestibule area between the lobby and the auditorium of the Lerner Theatre, 36 pieces of a mural from the former Miles Laboratories laid on the floor, waiting to be positioned.

Work started Thursday on attaching two of the four pieces of the mural depicting the history of medicine to downtown Elkhart�s Lerner Theatre. A second piece will go upstairs at the Lerner.

Weighing from 1,600 to 1,700 pounds and almost 16 feet long, the downstairs portion shows medicine�s ancient beginnings. It depicts a man with mortar and pestle and images of herbs, plants and seeds scattered throughout the design and two overlapping hands grasping at a globe. The mural matches the teal wall with green, blue and brown being the primary tones of the piece.

The portion that will go upstairs has an astronaut at its center, reflecting a modern era of science.

For local sculptor Wayne Harshberger, the project also reflected the history of the area. He said the Miles laboratory was one of the biggest employers of the city at the times

�It�s going to be here longer than I�ll be around,� Harshberger said. He and Bruce Gowdy are working on the project together.

Harshberger has had experience working with the mural before its installation at the Lerner. He took apart the piece at Miles and said it was easier for him to put it back since he was already familiar with the structure. Gowdy also did the mural�s renovation in the 1980�s.

To place the mural on the wall required careful planning. The wall it was being installed on is curved, while the mural is flat. Harshberger and Gowdy cut out the wall�s sheetrock and made the pattern of the piece and cut out plywood to fill in the empty sheetrock. Since the mural added extra weight, the two added 2 by 4 studs to the existing metal studs to make it stronger and added another layer of plywood. Gowdy said there has been �very good cooperation� with the Lerner on doing the installation.

�I kind of came out of retirement to do this,� Harshberger said.

Putting the pieces on will take more time to finish, since workers have to stop at 5 p.m. because of the Lerner�s programming. They started installation on the second piece on Friday. Four pieces were salvaged from the Miles/Bayer laboratory with one going to the National New York Central Railroad Museum. The location of the last placement isn't yet determined. Harshberger said he was told the piece on the first floor would be a permanent installation at the Lerner. (Editor's note: The location of all four pieces is known, but the placement of the fourth isn't. The original version of this story said it was unaccounted for. Sorry for the confusion.)

�That�s a piece of history,� he said.