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MFA workers cry ‘Doh’ at graffiti faces

A Homer Simpson head was painted onto the base of an iconic statue by Cyrus Dallin, “Appeal to the Great Spirit.”

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A Homer Simpson head was painted onto the base of an iconic statue by Cyrus Dallin, “Appeal to the Great Spirit.”

“Why Homer?” was the refrain as puzzled passersby on Huntington Avenue examined the crude spray-paint caricatures of Homer Simpson’s head on walls and a statue base.

The graffiti was perplexing considering its venue: Boston’s grand Museum of Fine Arts, which was founded in 1876 and has become one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world.

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Museum officials said they are working with police regarding the seven incidences of graffiti. Early Friday morning, a vandal spray-painted exterior walls of the building and the stone base of the statue of an Native American atop a horse in front of the museum.

“We are working with [police] to write [a report], and it will be filed,” Amelia Kantrovitz, the museum’s media relations manager, said in a phone interview.

No artwork was damaged, and the black and yellow paint came off easily. By 2 p.m., hardly a sign of the vandalism remained, except for telltale wet splotches where the building had been power washed.

“It’s got to be some young college kid or something; I don’t think it’s a statement or anything like that,” said Richard Bentley, 51, of Waltham, as he watched a power washer erase a 4-foot-tall Homer spray-painted in black.

“Well, it wasn’t an art student,” he said.

‘Well, it wasn’t an art student.’

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The vandal marked at least four exterior walls with random scribblings, including a directive to “Tell the truth,” as well as multiple depictions of
a bored-looking Homer Simpson, the bumbling patriarch in the long-running animated television show “The Simpsons.”

One Homer face appeared on the base of the bronze statue, called “Appeal to the Great Spirit,” which welcomes visitors to the museum. Created by Cyrus E. Dallin, an American artist who also made the North End’s bronze Paul Revere, the 1909 statue depicts a Sioux chief with his head tilted back and arms open, perhaps searching for spiritual guidance. The MFA bought the statue of the chief in 1913 .

Amateur graffiti signatures cluttered the wall near the Fenway entrance, according to three women exiting the museum together who said they saw the graffiti before it was erased. They called the vandalism “shocking” and “upsetting.”

As Barbara Camoreux walked by a Homer Simpson tag on the Fenway side of the building, she shook her head in dismay.

“It’s a lovely place for people to be able to walk along and see the trees, and I think it’s a shame for anybody to do that,” she said.

Power washing began at 9 a.m. and continued into the afternoon. A man in a Pristine Power Washing truck said he cleans graffiti all the time, but has never seen a Homer Simpson tag.

As he blasted the building walls with water, tour groups of small children plugged their ears and ran, shrieking, from the noise.

The MFA draws more than 1 million visitors each year to its wide-ranging collection, which includes nearly 450,000 works of art from ancient Egyptian to contemporary. It features a large number of works by another Homer: Winslow Homer, a preeminent 19th-century American landscape artist.

In the sunny late afternoon, a couple from Lexington strolled out of the museum and scanned the building. Bob Berger and his wife, who gave her name as H. Noble, saw no trace of the graffiti they had spotted earlier in the day.

Berger, 76, was pleased.

“It was cute, but I really didn’t want it to be there,” he said.

His wife was less approving of the cleanup. Though graffiti can be hard to control, it has artistic value, said Noble, 72. When she heard that the large Homer Simpson drawing on the rear of the building had been removed, she gasped.

“That’s the only one that I would have loved them to keep,” she said. “I liked it better than some of the things I saw in the museum.”

Claire McNeill can be reached at claire.mcneill@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @clairemcneill.
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