The inspiration of the muses

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Mysteries of the Muses of Central City in the historic Teller House

by Dave Gibson

In 1932 the Teller House underwent major renovation in preparation for the opening of the Central City Opera Festival. While peeling off twelve layers of wallpaper, eight murals were discovered behind and opposite the bar. Painted by Charles St. George Stanley in the late 1800s, they were un-savable yet the images themselves discernable. Instead of remodeling the walls as originally planned, a decision was made to recreate the classic paintings.

Muralist and restoration expert Paschal Quackenbush would work multiple times at the Opera House and Teller House over the years and was assigned this restoration task. Commonly known as “The Muses of Central City,” each painting of Roman deities is distorted in a somewhat subtle way as to make observers ponder the “intentional mistake” therein. After completing the restoration of the eight original muses, five years later Quackenbush thought he would have some fun of his own and painted three new muse murals on the side wall. Twenty years later, when a since-removed elevator was installed in 1952 (a stairway sits in its place now), the center painting of Paschal’s trilogy was lost. Apparently not taking too much exception to the demolition of his artwork, he again restored the remaining 10 muses.

After the collapse of the Opera House ceiling in 1984, Quackenbush was commissioned for the replacement, but passed on before being able to take on the project. The real solutions to the muses may have died with him. If a person faces the bar, from left to right, the faces of Muse #1 are said to be switched. Certainly the woman’s head is small in comparison to her body, but both heads are of equal size. Although it could be a muse, I rather think it might be the bat-like wings of the cherub.

Delving deeper into the murals, in Muse #7 many believe the answer to be a “five o’clock shadow” on the face of the woman. Although the shading is heavy, it doesn’t extend around the entire mouth. As I reviewed my photographs, I noticed a line down her right arm where the edge of draped cloth should be. There was no misinterpreting it, and if no one else was aware of the fact, I had discovered (or rediscovered) the 7th Muse!

All of the paintings were now open to extra scrutiny, and after examination, I took exception to Muse #6. The alleged woman’s torso on Mercury looks more like billowy clothing of a person from ancient Rome. In the photograph that shows Quackenbush’s missing muse, in the right side of the frame, is part of Muse #6. Although hard to tell from the old photo, the right leg appears more feminine than it does today. The present paint of both legs is a different color than the rest of the painting. It is feasible that it was changed during the last 1952’s touchup and a muse no longer exists – or he never inserted one in the first place to keep people wondering. It is also possible that it has yet to be found.

Even if all of the riddles of “The Muses of Central City” are answered, one question still remains: What was the muse in the missing eleventh muse?


Answers to “The Muses of Central City” as interpreted by Dave Gibson:

Muse #1: The cherub has the wings of a bat.

Muse #2: The swan’s neck is twisted an extra half turn.

Muse #3: There is no blade in Apollo’s sword.

Muse #4: Venus’ left nipple is located on the apple she is holding.

Muse #5: Libera has two left feet.

Muse #6: ?

Muse #7: A line runs down Juno’s right arm where drapery should be.

Muse #8: Mars is covering his private parts with a starfish.

Muse #9: Diana has two big toes on her right foot.

Muse #10: Aphrodite has a woman’s body and a man’s face

Missing Muse #11: ?

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