Umberto Bruni is a sculptor and painter who has taught at the Academie Querbes in Outremont and the Ecole des beaux-arts de Montreal. In 1957, he painted a 65-square-metre mural for the Montreal offices of British American Oil, which remained in the building’s lobby for more than 50 years. Last week, the mural was installed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
How did you feel when you first saw your mural in the museum?
I was surprised. I nearly fainted. I said this is the place it’s supposed to be. Because of all the stairs (in front of the mural at British American) you could not see the whole thing. It kills the impression. This is the best place, here.
After you completed the project, did you see it very many times? Did you go to the building to visit it?
Well, once in a while, but not too often after. But I was surprised that there was no damage. Because it was near the stairs, I was surprised. People, sometimes they don’t care and they just scratch it or something like that, but it kept well.
Do you remember what they paid you to do the work in 1957?
Don’t ask me that. I think I got $1,000. It doesn’t matter because with $1,000 I could live with it. I had a family with one child. I could get through. But you’d be surprised. I made a sculpture, I don’t want to say for who, but I was paid only $75. Today, they cheat. They reproduce it without my consent. That’s what happens to artists, you know? First of all, they’re not businessmen. But it doesn’t matter, I was happy to do it.
Did you have much interaction with (mural designer) Thor Hansen?
No, I was surprised when he came to my place and said, “I have a job for you.” He lived in Toronto and I lived in Montreal. It’s quite a way. When he came back after the mural was done, though, he was very happy.
You’re 96 years old. Is there any secret to long life?
You know, I said to a woman who wanted to know the secret, “When you get to my age, you’ll know it.” I think it was the only answer I could give.
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