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.

Founding museum director Martin H. Bush developed the ambitious plan to clad the expansive south façade of the new McKnight Art Center with a mural of epic proportions. He also sought an artist of the highest international stature and ultimately persuaded Miró to accept the commission. Generously, the artist did not take a fee for his design, receiving a nominal payment only for the painting that served as a prototype for the mural.

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 September 27, 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 mainly based in Paris, Joan Miró (1893-1983) was a key surrealist in the period between the world wars. So esteemed is his artistic excellence, in 2009 to 2011, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Tate Gallery in London organized major loan exhibitions devoted to this key figure in the School of Paris along with Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.

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).


Of 11 monumental murals Miró created worldwide in the 43-year period between 1937 and 1980, the Ulrich Museum’s mosaic is the largest of only four in the United States and one of only two murals outside New York City. It is the only predominately glass mosaic he ever created.

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. This artistic content is highly appropriate for a university campus that instills the value of realizing one’s potential.

For the Wichita project, Miró 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 26-x-52-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

From left: Joan Miro, two nidentified women, art dealer Pierre Matisse and stained-glass artisan Jacques Loire discuss 'Personnages Oiseaux' at Ateliers Loire, ca. 1977

Miro Dedication Ceremony, October 1978

Miro Unveiling, dedicated in October 1978

Miro Dedication Ceremony, October 1978

Miro Dedication Ceremony, October 1978, Edwin A. Ulrich (center)