The Outdoor Murals of Richard Haas: History, Challenges + Strategies for Preservation

Historic Preservation Thesis

Kenisha Thomas

Claudia Kavenagh, advisor

The outdoor murals of Richard Haas are complex, site-specific works of public art that actively engage the environment in which they are situated. Informed by the architectural history and development of a particular site and its surrounding environment, executed using the techniques of trompe l‘oeil painting, his murals stand as historical markers and references that seamlessly embed themselves into the urban landscape.  Richard Haas first began painting large-scale murals on the exterior walls of buildings while living in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood in the mid-1970s as a response to the large-scale construction and urban renewal initiatives that were drastically changing the city landscape.  His first mural, the SoHo Mural, is a trompe l’oeil extension of the cast-iron, front façade of 112 Prince Street and is located on the brick party wall of the six-story building. Since the creation of the mural on 112 Prince Street, Haas has gone on to produce a number of technically challenging and artistically significant murals that have become distinct features not only within the New York City landscape but within cities throughout the U.S and abroad.

Unfortunately, almost half of all Haas’ murals created over the past thirty-seven years have been destroyed and many of his remaining murals are at risk of destruction due to a host of threats and preservation challenges.  Using the SoHo mural as a case study, this thesis examined the various challenges facing the preservation of outdoor murals and proposed potential strategies for the protection and preservation of not just Haas’ SoHo mural but for outdoor murals in general. In addition, this thesis examined the role the field of historic preservation plays in preserving outdoor murals and advocated for the field to consider the importance of outdoor murals within our local and collective histories.