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(WBIR) For the first time in more than 40 years, the public can see a historic and sometimes controversial mural.

Thursday night, the UT Downtown Gallery on Gay Street in Knoxville hosted a private showing of the "Marion Greenwood in Tennessee" exhibit. It features the works of Marion Greenwood (1909-1970), a celebrated muralist.

The exhibit showcases her University of Tennessee mural called "The History of Tennessee." Greenwood painted it at UT's Carolyn P. Brown University Center during her time as a visiting professor, from 1954-1955.

It became the center of controversy in the 1960s. At the time, some found Greenwood's portrayal of African Americans in the mural racist. The piece of art shows a man who appears to be a slave or sharecropper.

"This is the late '60s and '70s and UT became integrated in 1961," said Mike Berry, local artist and UT Downtown Gallery manger.

Students vandalized the mural during the student strikes of 1970. However, according to Berry, the two incidences were not related. Regardless, the university decided to cover the mural to avoid further damage.

"The panel that got together and made the decision in '72 actually said, 'One day we'll uncover it where it can be seen by a different generation in more of a historical context.' And we're excited because we think that the day has come," Berry said.

Although the university covered it with Plexiglas in the 2000s and had curtains that could open and close for its viewing, this is the first time in decades it's been on public display.

It moved locations last summer before demolition of the University Center began. It is now temporarily on display at the UT Downtown Gallery.

"I think this has something for everyone and the size itself is really a gorgeous thing," said Margo Clark, who works at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

The 28-foot historic mural is the focal point of the exhibit; however, it also features 16 rough prep sketches of the mural, as well as a smaller mural. This is the first time the two have been showcased in the same room.

The exhibit runs from June 6 to August 9.

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