Soon after settling into my remodeled house in Columbia, I embarked on a quest to find a product that would clear my 1972 drains of long, teenaged hair and the products used to keep it all beautiful. My journey eventually took me to Riback Supply Company where I found not only the needed product, but something very surprising: art covering the walls in the two-story office space.
The Riback Pipe and Steel Company headquarters was completed in 1963. Company president Harold Riback, surely a kindred spirit of mine, looked at the bare walls of the new showroom and knew that they needed some kind of art.
Riback originally planned a contest for college students, but eventually decided to commission Sidney Larson, head of the art department at Christian College (now Columbia College) to create the mural.*
Riback was a generous supporter of the arts and believed that art should be seen everywhere, not just in museums and galleries. He has been quoted as saying, “If art and culture are appreciated by the average person, why restrict it to the museums? Why not bring it into the market place where it can be enjoyed on a daily basis?”
The Riback Mural illustrates the history and social influence of the products of the plumbing industry and consists of fifteen painted panels and three metal sculptures. The large sculpture is ten feet tall, while the others are each six feet tall; all are made with copper and brass bar and plate.
The artist did all of the research for the paintings, the first in the series showing prehistoric man while the final painting, titled “6,000 Years Later,” depicts modern times. Paintings not shown or mentioned in this article include (in chronological order) The Palace at Knossis; The Indus Civilization; The Baths of Dioclesian; Hebrew Ritual Bath; Sauna or Turkish Bath, Your Choice; France, Late 18th Century; The Village Blacksmith; and Home, Sweet Home.
The metal sculptures are especially striking and stand in the corners as if guarding the art. Viewed from below, they seem smaller than they are. I haven’t seen anything else like them in Columbia.
The mural and sculptures were finished in 1969. Sidney Larson stated, “Harold Riback’s support for the project reflected not only his desire for making his building distinctive, but also his continuing determination to provide the community with works of art offering pleasure and education for future generations.” The Riback Supply Company, located at 2412 Business Loop 70 East, welcomes visitors to view the art on weekdays from 8-5. They also provide a booklet that covers the history of the project and includes in-depth information on each work.
*Although the work does not fit the traditional definition of a mural, that is how the artist has named it.