Joe Leatherbury opposed to mural coming down

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Last week, Historic Vevay, Inc., which operates the Historic Hoosier Theater in Vevay, announced that its board of directors had made the difficult decision to have the mural on the south side of the exterior of the building removed.

Experts in historic preservation, including Indiana Landmarks, Inc., told the board that the only way to structurally save the south wall of the theater was to remove the mural because the paint used is sealing the old brick and not allowing it to breath.

This is causing the brick to break down and erode, putting the wall and the entire building in peril.

But the artist who painted the mural disagrees; and believes that the mural is protected through the ‘Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990’.

Douglas Leatherbury, attorney for artist Josiah Leatherbury, wrote a letter to both Historic Vevay and also Vevay Main Street on May 13th of last year advising both entities that the mural shouldn’t be tampered with in any way, because it would violate the terms of the Visual Artists Rights Act.

That letter was in response to Historic Vevay, Inc., planning to have another artist work on the mural in preparation for the Vevay-Switzerland County Bicentennial celebration.

In the letter, Douglas Leatherbury wrote:

Please accept this letter as a kind notice to cease and desist any planned actions to retouch, refresh, repaint or otherwise modify this work of art.

The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 grants three rights: the right to attribution, the right of integrity, and the right to prevent destruction. The Visual Rights Act (VARA) provides in relevant part that the author of a work of visual art shall have the right:

” …(A) to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right,”

These ” … rights spring from a belief that an artist in the process of creation injects his spirit into the work and that the artist’s personality, as well as the integrity of the work, should therefore be protected and preserved.” Carter v. Helmsley-Spear, 717 F.3rd 77, 81 (2nd cir. 1995)

When Josiah’s family and friends view this work of art, they see not only the work itself, but the enduring spirit of Vevay, Switzerland County, and the Terry Street Ohio River Landing, and the very spirit of Josiah Mark Leatherbury permanently imbedded therein….

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After receiving that letter, Historic Vevay did stop its plans to have work done on the mural, but that led to discussions with Seth Elder of Indiana Landmarks, Inc., who – upon inspecting the mural – joined with others in saying that the mural would have to be taken down if the theater was to be saved, because damage was already occurring to the interior south wall as a result of moisture being trapped in the wall because of the type of paint that had been used in creating the mural.

In last week’s article, board members Fred Stave and Toni Kniola said that they, along with others, had traveled to Salem, Indiana, to the office of Douglas Leatherbury to discuss the matter. They said that after seeing all of the information, there was a verbal agreement that the mural would, unfortunately, have to come down, and that arrangements would be made to properly honor the mural and the artist with a display inside the theater.

But, after last week’s article announcing that the mural would have to come down, Douglas Leatherbury sent anther letter to the board of directors of Historic Vevay, Inc., informing it that there was no consent by Joe Leatherbury to remove or adapt the mural.

The letter states:

Please be advised that Josiah Mark Leatherbury does not consent to any planned action to remove or modify the mural of Historic Vevay.

Please accept this letter as a kind notice to cease and desist from any action to remove or modify Joe’s mural.

If you are determined to destroy the mural, you must first purchase Josiah’s artistic rights and interests in the artwork.

You should also know that the paint Josiah used was water-based that is designed to allow moisture to escape. The paint used protects the bricks and does no harm whatsoever. More importantly, however, I believe the artwork is so valuable to the history of Vevay that it must be protected at all costs. Unless you relent in this matter, a legal action will be filed without further notice.