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  • The Artwork of Cincinnati Union TerminalWinold Reiss’s North America Mural
  • Nick Massa

Among the many fabulous things specially designed and created for Cincinnati Union Terminal when it was built in the early 1930s, the artwork that adorns the many public spaces in the building is the most memorable. The directors of the Cincinnati Union Terminal Company were eager to make their new station a showplace of modern Cincinnati, and by including a large amount of interior and exterior art work, unusual in a train station, they would set Union Terminal apart from her peer stations.

Totaling just more than eighteen thousand square feet, the project would be one of the largest public art commissions of the period. Given this scale, several artists were eventually hired to create the wonderful works of art that would grace the station. The largest commission, nearly twelve thousand square feet, was for the creation of mosaic murals to be located in the concourses. German-born American artist Winold Reiss produced the artwork, known as cartoons, that would be translated into glass-tile mosaics by the Ravenna Tile Company.

In the 1970s, when the rear concourse of the terminal was demolished, fourteen murals, the industrial or worker murals that depicted Cincinnati area industries, were moved to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The mural that adorned the west wall of the rear concourse, which featured a map of North America, could not be saved; it was determined to be too large and too expensive to move. Fortunately, Winold Reiss’s cartoon for this mural has survived and has joined others for the mosaic murals in Cincinnati Museum Center’s collection.

Ravenna Tile used the cartoons, one-third scale, to match color and composition for the full-scale murals. The cartoon for the rear mural is particularly notable, as it is a work in progress. Unlike Reiss’s other cartoons, this painting shows more clearly than any of the others the process of creation. The North American time zones are marked by clocks, arrows, and lines, which Reiss experimented with, making several changes. He shortened the hands of the clocks and went through several variations of the boundary lines and arrows. He also toyed with alternate colors for parts of the mural, trying a dark green for Canada over the original lighter green. [End Page 60]

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Detail of the mural showing the clock denoting the Atlantic time zone with faint traces of a previous design, which Reiss had painted over. cincinnati museum center

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Detail of the northwest United States, which shows the changes Reiss made to the clock hands as well as the two examples of city names. cincinnati museum center

All of the elements of the finished mural are present in the cartoon but are not consistent, and it is assumed that this cartoon went to Ravenna Tile with instructions on which parts of the painting to reference for the final mural. Reiss kept the lighter green for Canada and eliminated some of the original extra details, leaving the map to shine on its own. Many of the city names that appear on the final mural were not even penciled in on the cartoon, but Reiss did complete [End Page 61] two in the Pacific Northwest, which provided the size and style for the rest. Also marked on the painting are Roman numerals, used to match similar colors across the mural when Ravenna was assembling the full size version.

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The full cartoon, showing the hemispheres of the globe and details of North America. cincinnati museum center

Today, this painting provides not only a curious and fascinating insight into the process used in the creation of the murals but also a glimpse of that now-lost beautiful map mural.

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The western end of the train concourse of Cincinnati Union Terminal (c. 1933), showing the mosaic mural based on the Reiss cartoon. cincinnati museum center

[End Page 62]

Nick Massa
Content Production Specialist
Cincinnati Museum Center


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pp. 60-62
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