Harry Sanders is trying hard to solve a mystery that has left him with multiple clues but no solid leads so far.
The Calgary-based historian wants to trace the artist who designed a unique 3D replica of the Indian monument, the Taj Mahal, for a local restaurant of the same name.
The Taj Mahal restaurant, founded in 1973, is located on Macleod Trail and has a distinctive-looking mural at the entrance, a sight that is hard to miss.
"It's just such a delightful piece of public art, you know, on a privately owned building," Sanders said in a conversation on The Calgary Eyeopener.
"I always like to include public art in my work as a local historian."
Sanders is currently researching the history of the area where the Taj Mahal restaurant is located for the city's local area plan and is interested in decoding the mural's origins.
He believes that the 50-foot-wide mural was constructed sometime in the 1990s by a local artist who also worked on a painting of the monument.
"It [the mural] seems seamless when you look at it, but it was done … [using] several different plywood pieces. It's all wood," Sanders said.
"It looks like the Taj Mahal in India and it stands in relief. It's a painting, but wherever there's those towers beside the building or that big central dome … it's in like a shallow relief, like a bas-relief, all done in wood, painted in colour."
The artist behind the mural was first asked to design a 'small-scale version' of the mural. The smaller 3D painting can be spotted inside the restaurant to this day. (Submitted by Harry Sanders)
The historian reckons the mural has an uncanny resemblance to the actual monument.
"It appears to be the Taj Mahal in [the] daytime, right there on Macleod Trail," he said.
The restaurant has now been open for 50 years. According to Sanders, an Indian couple owned the establishment for almost 40 years until they decided to sell it in 2012.
"The couple that owned it for many decades, Basant and Amrit Chandna, they admired the Taj Mahal," the historian said.
He added that they decided to post an advertisement on a job board run by the Alberta University of the Arts (which was then called the Alberta College of Art), hoping to find an artist who could do justice to the Taj Mahal and create a stunning mural.
According to Sanders, an Indian couple owned the establishment for almost 40 years until they decided to sell it in 2012. (Submitted by Harry Sanders)
While that option didn't quite work out, they did end up hiring an artist who walked into the restaurant one day and left behind a pamphlet.
"I spoke with Amrit about this. As she remembers, there was a guy named Mike who was unaware of the job posting … and dropped off a pamphlet advertising his services," Sanders said.
"It said something like, 'I need a job. Feed the hungry artist.'"
The Chandnas decided to give him a chance and asked him to design a "small-scale version" of the mural. He impressed them with his skills and was hired to do the job.
The 3D painting can be spotted inside the restaurant to this day.
LISTEN | Harry Sanders talks about the iconic mural:
While it's still unclear who the artist was, Amrit remembers a few details.
"My husband passed away and he was the one who dealt with him most of the time," she said.
"All I remember [is] that he did the mural and he did it at his father's place … his parents lived in Cochrane and he did it in his garage. In his father's garage."
Sanders is currently looking for more information on anyone who knows the artist behind the 3D mural, possibly a man named Mike whose parents lived in Cochrane.
"This [mural] is a distinctive looking thing … anyone who's been to the restaurant knows it," Sanders said.
"Thousands of commuters every day for something like 40 years have passed by this painting and it remains undocumented. So to my mind, it's this is a piece of Calgary's history … [and] we don't know much about it."