Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People) by Spanish modern artist Joan Miró is a world masterpiece. Dedicated on October 31, 1978, the Venetian-glass-and-marble mosaic spans 28 x 52 feet across the façade of the Ulrich Museum of Art. It is an icon for the museum, university, the City of Wichita, and the State of Kansas.

As an outdoor work withstanding the elements for more than thirty years, the mosaic now requires considerable conservation. Working with Russell-Marti Conservation Services, Inc., the conservation project will extend over five years, beginning in Fall 2011. The project is estimated to cost $3 million, and governmental, corporate, and private support is sought for this essential conservation.

A native of Barcelona who was mainly based in Paris, Miró was a key surrealist in the period between the world wars. His work enjoyed significant international success. Personnages Oiseaux contains core ingredients of Miró's art. Colorful elements float freely across an expansive field. The linear patterning suggests a sprightly calligraphy. According to the title, the abstracted figures are fantastical bird people. Miró regularly depicted birds, stars, and people to reflect his profound faith in humanity. The brilliant colors and fanciful creatures in the Ulrich mural embody the joyous celebration of life typical of Miró's mature work and appropriate for a university campus that instills the value of realizing one’s potential.

Although best known as a painter, Miró was also an enthusiastic experimenter. "I have always been interested in media other than paint," he wrote in 1960. The Ulrich commission gave him his first opportunity to design a major work that would be executed chiefly in glass. Seventeen years before creating Personnages Oiseaux, he painted a large-scale canvas for Harvard University's Harkness Commons that was reproduced as a ceramic mural (1960–61). His other significant ceramic murals include those at UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1956), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1963–67), the Barcelona airport (1970), and the world's fair in Osaka, Japan (1970). For the Wichita project, he asked that Ateliers Loire in Chartres, France, a specialized decorative-stained-glass manufacturer, fabricate his design. An estimated one million pieces of glass and marble comprise the twenty-eight-by-fifty-two-foot expanse. Personnages Oiseaux is the only mural Miró made in this medium, although he later designed stained-glass windows for the Maeght and Cziffra art foundations in France.

Miro mural

conservators at work on the MIro Mural

Tiles from the Miro MUral prior to the beginning of conservation

Conservators look at panels on the Miro Mural

close up of Miro mural

damaged panels from the MIro mural are removed