Now you see it, now you don’t: Groundbreaking downtown Salt Lake City mural vanishing due to construction

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) New construction on 300 West, pictured here in March, is covering up a groundbreaking mural on the former Artspace building on Pierpont Avenue.

A 1980s mural by a Peruvian artist that helped mark the creative rising of a west downtown Salt Lake City neighborhood is disappearing from view, due to the construction of an eight-story apartment building on 300 West.

The 64-by-30-foot external mural on the east end of the century-old Eccles-Browning Warehouse was created by Peruvian artist Peruko Coppacatti, says Stephen Goldsmith, the founder of Artspace, the nonprofit that carved artist residences and studios out of the building on Pierpont Avenue.

“Mural announces envisioning of creative fire,” was the headline of The Salt Lake Tribune’s July 20, 1986, “Art Scene” column by George Dibble.

The painting, visible from 300 West, was designed by Coppacatti to honor laborers and artisans as community builders. “It was the first one that we knew of in the area that was formally commissioned like this on the exterior of the building,” says Goldsmith, now an associate professor of urban design at the University of Utah.

(Courtesy photo by Stephen Goldsmith) Peruvian artist Peruko Coppacatti's mural on the east end of the former Artspace Building on west downtown's Pierpont Avenue. The 1986 mural is disappearing more each day as a high-rise apartment building is being constructed facing 300 West.

Coppacatti, who was working with a California anthropologist, was selected after a national competition that received some 70 applications. The project was proposed and funded by John Williams, one of the founders of Gastronomy Inc., and an Artspace board member, Goldsmith says.

Coppacatti’s work was influenced by classic Mexican muralists, Goldsmith says. Coppacatti spent a hot summer in Salt Lake City with his wife and young son, completing the painting in about 30 days, according to Dibble’s column.

Every day, the artist climbed over a barbed-wire fence on the Firestone property on the 300 West corner, and then scaled scaffolding to reach the mural site, Goldsmith recalls. “Physical limitations at the site prevent the artist from running back and viewing the work as it progressed,” according to Dibble’s column.

The mural features three figures from behind, and that perspective focuses attention on their work, Dibble wrote. “A ceramic kiln glows with the durable heat of physical fusion. Inflaming heat from a blowtorch softens rigid metal blocks with sheer edges and firm masses.”

The figures are reaching upward, a movement that “serves to deepen the vertical space, becoming less complicated as it rises,” according to Dibble, who pointed out it was one of the elements that make the mural different than a painting. Dibble praised the artist’s combination of quiet, painterly elements, “with sculptural illusion created with hard edges and contrasting color.”

The apartment building under construction will be the third high-rise residential building in the area, with the Milagro Apartments under construction to the east, and the Broadway Park Lofts at 360 W. 300 South.