Kentucky Mirror Mosaic to be restored

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Gary Bielefield plans to begin a restoration project on the giant Kentucky Mirror Mosaic located on the Frantz Building Services Building at 319 E. Second Street. The 38-year-old mosaic stretches 100 feet by 43 feet and is Owensboro’s largest and most visible piece of public art.

Gary Bielefeld's Kentucky Mirror Mosaic -- a giant mirrored map of Kentucky -- is Owensboro's largest and most visible piece of public art.

"It's iconic," Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday. "It's a really important piece of art."

The huge map stretches 110 feet from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains and 43 feet from the Ohio River to Tennessee on the west wall of the 133-year-old Frantz Building Services Building at 319 E. Second St.

But after 38 years of summer heat and winter cold, the glue that holds the glass to the wall is getting weak and pieces are falling.

And Bielefeld plans to start a restoration project this week.

First, he'll scrape the current mirrored map off the wall.

And then, he'll replace it with new glass.

"It's important to see community leaders like Gary step up with a project like this," Calitri said. "It's part of the beautification efforts in the community."

He said the CVB will begin promoting the Kentucky Mirror Mosaic to tourists once the project is completed.

Bielefeld said when he and a Kentucky Wesleyan College fraternity installed the artwork the first time, it took four months.

"It'll probably take that long or longer this time," he said.

That pushes the work into winter.

But Bielefeld said there's a special glue designed for winter temperatures.

An estimated 8,500 vehicles a day pass by the mirrored map as they cross the Glover H. Cary Bridge.

And thousands of walkers passed it Saturday during the community's annual Bridge Walk.

Bielefeld, an artist who specializes in large projects, said a few years ago that he eyed that wall when he first moved to Owensboro.

"I thought it was a good place for something," he said. "But it faces the wrong way on a one-way street. The only people who see it are pedestrians and people on the bridge."

In 1981, when he was working downtown and teaching a class on "mega murals and super graphics" at KWC, Bielefeld presented his idea of a giant mirror map to Bob Puckett, who owned the building then.

"He gave me a budget of $3,000," Bielefeld said. "I knew I would need help, so I talked a fraternity at Kentucky Wesleyan into helping me as a community service project. And I promised them a pizza when the work was finished. The budget barely covered the expenses and the pizza."

They started working on July 2, 1981, and finished four months later at 1:15 p.m. on Nov. 3.

"We had people just walk up and want to put on a piece," Bielefeld said. "We probably had 50 to 60 different people working on it. But there were 25 in the core group at the end."

On May 15, 1985, less than four years after the mirror mosaic was completed, a faulty elevator motor sparked a fire that gutted the building it was attached to.

The building was about to be torn down when Terry Woodward bought it for $1, promising to spend up to $150,000 to restore the building.

He said at the time that he did it to preserve the mural.

"We used mirror glue to attach it to the building," Bielefeld said earlier. "It's what they use to attach windows to high-rise buildings. We slathered it on like peanut butter, hoping it would stick and last. I don't remember how long it was supposed to hold. But I think it's done pretty good -- especially when the building burned."

He said the new glue is supposed to last for 50 years.

"I'll be 116 by then," Bielefeld said. "This is my last go-round."

He said, "We'll scrape this one off, seal the wall, paint it and put the new one on."

Bielefeld said the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance is providing some money.

He said he's asking the city, the county and the CVB to contribute "and then, we'll nickel and dime it after that."

In 2014, pieces of glass began to fall and Bielefeld did some preventive maintenance to stabilize it.

But it's time to redo the project, he said Tuesday.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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