HYDE PARK, N.Y. — Crisp and white as a chef’s toque, the newest artwork at the Culinary Institute of America made its debut last month as the perfect backdrop for commencement snapshots. Graduates and family members almost instinctively posed before the mural, a sculptural mélange of food-related words and objects.
Nicholas Fasciano, 74, who watched the scene from a respectful distance, knew how unlikely such a happy ending had seemed a few years ago. He has been involved with the mural from its beginnings in the 1960s, when it was installed in the CBS building at 51 West 52nd Street, known as Black Rock for its somber granite exterior.
Throughout Black Rock, CBS sought an atmosphere of understated, pinpoint-perfect design. Every typographical element, down to the numbers on the elevator buttons, was scrutinized by Lou Dorfsman, the network’s creative director.
In the 20th-floor cafeteria, however, he and his colleagues let their hair down a bit, as if they wanted to take a break and have a little fun. Mr. Dorfsman presented a partitioned type drawer known as a California job case to Frank Stanton, the design-conscious president of CBS, and declared: “We’re going to do a big one of these.”
Working with Herb Lubalin, Tom Carnese, John E. Alcorn, Stanley Glaubachand Mr. Fasciano, Mr. Dorfsman created a mural 33 feet 11 inches wide and 8 feet 3 inches tall. It was composed of 1,650 letters, carved from pine or poplar and lacquered white, that were glued or nailed to a plywood background. These were interspersed with actual vessels and utensils, as well as foods reproduced in plastic or plaster.
The mural’s title, “Gastrotypographicalassemblage,” suggested that the tasteful CBS was not above a little wry humor.
Perfectly suited to the ’60s, when New York embraced Pop Art and fondue, the mural survived the 1980s, even as “suki yaki,” “hot tamale” and “Tom & Jerry” grew quaint, and spellings like “catsup,” “cumquat,” “gefülte fish” and “pasta fazole” grew outmoded.
In 1990, however, when Laurence Tisch owned CBS, Mr. Dorfsman, who was by then retired, received a distressing phone call from Black Rock. It was a bad day.
“Lou,” the building manager said, “they’re throwing the wall out. It’s ready for the next Dumpster.”
Panicked, Mr. Dorfsman called Mr. Fasciano, whose work on the mural included a mahogany hand holding an egg (originally a knob for a well-disguised door) and a pair of bare feet, carved from pine, crushing a bunch of grapes.
Mr. Fasciano rented a truck and sped into Manhattan. From the service bay at Black Rock, he and his colleague Tom Andresakes retrieved the nine panels of the mural, each weighing 100 to 200 pounds, and drove them to Mr. Fasciano’s home in Oyster Bay, N.Y.
They were not easy artistic orphans to place. Mr. Dorfsman’s alma mater, the Cooper Union, passed on the chance to take the mural, Mr. Fasciano said, as did the Museum of Modern Art. For a time, it appeared as if the work might be moved to Atlanta.
One Sunday, over cappuccino, Mr. Fasciano discussed the mural’s uncertain future with his friend and neighbor Nick Valenti, the chief executive of the Patina Restaurant Group, who happens to be chairman emeritus of the Culinary Institute.
Mr. Valenti said the institute — here in Hyde Park, north of New York City — would be the “best place in the world” for the mural. And he found a receptive audience in L. Timothy Ryan, the president of the institute, who had admired an old photo of the wall in Mr. Valenti’s office. “What is that?” Dr. Ryan asked.
Dr. Ryan’s curiosity ultimately cost the institute $75,000. The balance of the $100,000 restoration cost was met by the William S. Paley Foundation, named for the executive who built CBS into a communications empire.
What the institute received in the deal was an instantly popular artwork for the Marriott Pavilion, its new conference center and event space. “All the students rightly wanted to have their pictures taken in front of it,” Dr. Ryan said after commencement. “This is the greatest $75,000 I’ve ever spent in my life.”
Mr. Fasciano took five years, on and off, restoring the work. He estimated that 20 percent of the letters had to be replaced, 40 percent had to be repaired and 40 percent had only to be conserved. But even conservation was a task, as it involved stripping, sanding and applying three new coats of white lacquer by hand to each letter.
Graters, molds, seltzer bottles and wooden spoons — even the escargot shells — are originals from 1966. Food reproductions were easy to come by, Mr. Fasciano said, pointing out that the realistic plastic hero sandwich was sold by the foot online.
And what might the demanding Mr. Dorfsman, who died in 2008, say if he could return to see his restored masterpiece in its new setting? Mr. Fasciano hazarded this guess:
“Nick, the ‘w’ in ‘wheat’ is a little crooked.”