Curator of Soviet-era peace mural discusses artwork covered at Milwaukee airport

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- If you've walked past the colorful clay mural in General Mitchell International Airport before, you might be surprised to learn right now you can't see it.

Airport officials said it's in part because they're concerned about potential vandalism.

While they wouldn't confirm if there have been threats to the mural, it is a gift from Russian citizens over 30 years ago, when the Soviet Union still existed.

If you're headed through Concourse D, there is a mural that is covered up right now. The person who helped bring it here says now might be a better time than ever for people to see it.

Joel Pfeiffer's studio in Hartland, Wisconsin is filled with pictures, memorabilia and posters from the project he directed in 1989.

"Five thousand people came together, we mixed eight tons of clay and we created a mural for the people of Leningrad, Russia as a gift, and everyone carved impressions of peace and friendship," said Pfeiffer.

That mural was traded for one from the people of Soviet-era Leningrad in Russia, which resides in Mitchell International Airport and is covered up right now.

Pfeiffer said the trading of these murals was meant to symbolize working together to form community and putting aside differences to seek peace between people.

Which is why, in light of what's going on between the modern Russian state, Ukraine, and the west right now, Pfeiffer said he was shocked to hear it's been hidden from the public.

"I was stunned, because I had no clue that something like this was going to unfold, and I certainly had a reaction to it that I think this is an incredible teaching moment," said Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer, an art teacher for many years, said the lesson that was the original intention of the mural is more relevant now than ever.

"Rather than being reactionary to what's going on, especially specifically the Russian people, they don't want war, we don't want war, so that's why I think this is a symbol that really represents what community is all about," said Pfeiffer.

He said he knows this, as he traveled to Russia as part of the project and is still speaking with friends there.

Officials with the airport said they're trying to work to find an organization that can help move the large mural somewhere else.

Pfeiffer said as the airport changes, he understands that might need to happen.

"What we really want to do is preserve the mural and find a place in Milwaukee that it could be there permanently and everyone can have access to it," said Pfeiffer.

There's no word from airport officials where it might go if it does get moved.

Pfeiffer said if anything comes of this, he hopes people seek out the PBS documentary about the project, which he says speaks to many of the issues we face right now.

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