By Ana Mengotti
Miami, Jul 4 (EFE).- After successfully fulfilling its original task, the “Save Lincoln” project, a group of individuals united to rescue Miami Beach’s artistic heritage, is now working to save seven big mosaic murals created in 1971 by Italian-Cuban sculptor Enzo Gallo and preserve them along the streets of the South Florida coastal city.
If not for the efforts of this group, the murals created by the Italian-born Gallo (1927-1999) – who moved as a young man to Cuba to work with relatives who were sculptors in Havana but then exiled himself to the United States in 1960 – would have been destroyed amid the ongoing brouhaha that is South Florida’s hot real estate market.
Featuring people, events and institutions from the history of the US, which is celebrating the 246th anniversary of its independence on Monday, the mosaics have enlivened a key corner in Miami Beach, a tourist mecca, for 51 years.
They are to be seen on the outer walls of a bank building that is presently being demolished so that a hotel can be constructed on the site.
To create the murals, Gallo used a technique from ancient Byzantium to portray US President Abraham Lincoln; Betsy Ross, the woman who sewed the very first “Stars and Stripes” flag; the first astronauts on the Moon and to recreate the iconic photo showing US soldiers planting the country’s flag during the World War II battle on Iwo Jima.
In addition, the artist paid tribute to the three branches of the US government with murals showing the Supreme Court, Capitol and White House in Washington DC.
The mosaic murals have never gone unnoticed and thousands of tourists have taken photos of them over the years, Jungian psychoanalyst Emilio Romero, who lives in a nearby building, told EFE.
Romero is one of the saviors of the work of Gallo, who is recognized above all for his marble sculptures and left a large number of such works in both Cuba and the US.
“When I learned that they were going to raze the building, I immediately was concerned for the murals,” said Romero, who quickly got started trying to save them.
His efforts dovetailed at a certain point with those of Daniel Ciraldo, the executive president of the Miami Design Preservation League, and with those of other people who had mobilized with the same goal in mind, and so they decided to join forces.
“At first, we only intended to save ‘Lincoln,’ but we’ve managed to save all seven murals,” he said, obviously pleased with this “triumph” of art over economic forces.
The demolition of the bank building has been postponed so that the cement walls on which the murals appear can be removed.
The company building the CitizenM Hotel, which will stand on the former bank property at the corner of Alton Road and Lincoln Road, has helped fund the project with a six-figure check and the owners of a nearby commercial property have agreed for a symbolic price to store the murals for one year, Romero said.
In addition, one of Gallo’s sons, plastic surgeon Julio Gallo, is paying for an expert to supervise the operation to remove the murals according to professional criteria.
And furthermore, the Miami Beach City Council unanimously approved accepting Gallo’s works as a donation and finding a new location in the city where they can be displayed.
Now, Romero said he wants “Lincoln to be taken to Lincoln (Rd.),” referring to the pedestrian street bearing the name of the 16th president, which is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Miami Beach.
The murals are being cut into sections for easier removal, transport and storage, and the largest ones – like the one of Lincoln – measure 4.5 meters (15 feet) high.
Gallo also depicted Betsy Ross smiling and sewing the first US flag, along with another mural showing US astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon and the US Marines installing the flag on the top of Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi.
The other three mosaics showing the US government buildings are smaller.