Wall Street Journal features New Deal public art | #GloucesterMA WPA murals are a treasure!

A Wall Street Journal article published March 23, 2021, “The Staying Inside Guide: Big-Deal Art in Plain-Spoken Venues” by Judith H. Dobrzynski, celebrates New Deal works of art across the country.

WSJ Article description- During the Great Depression, federal programs funded the creation of thousands of murals in post offices, hospitals and other locations across the country, many of which can now be viewed online

The reporter highlights Coit Tower in San Francisco as one renowned example.

“The New Deal murals inside Coit Tower in San Francisco are also well-known. Painted by some two-dozen artists in 1934, they are social realist panels about life in California during the Depression, with titles like “Banking and Law” and “Meat Industry.” Their story, with a detailed layout, is available in a San Francisco Recreation and Park Department brochure.”

Judith H. Dobrzynski for WSJ

The reverse ratio is evident here: Gloucester selected four artists who completed scores of masterworks* for specific public buildings. Monumental stunning mural cycles were commissioned under the auspices of Federal Arts PWAP and WPA-era programs from 1935-42 for Sawyer Free Library, City Hall, the High School on Dale Ave (now Central Grammar apartments), Hovey, Maplewood, and Forbes elementary schools. As schools were closed, disposed, or repurposed, murals were rescued and resited within City Hall and later O’Maley.

The City of Gloucester artists were significant muralists and painters. In truth, venerated. They captured stories of Gloucester and became a celebrated part of our history and artistry. When considered as a whole, the Gloucester murals rival WPA era collections completed in big cities. The density of murals are as concentrated as any found in larger cities, like Coit Tower in San Francisco, though spread out among buildings rather than one tower, or one structure, as with Harlem Hospital. Gloucester’s post office nearly landed a commission, but fate intervened. I’ll save that for the Part 2 post.

Gloucester and greater Cape Ann artists were commissioned for murals beyond Gloucester and Massachusetts and served key roles on selection panels and planning.

In recent years thanks to a CPA award, the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, established in 1978 to help museums with conservation, evaluated the condition of the city’s historic Depression era collection to help with important restoration. Gloucester’s impressive collection itself is the museum and the city a work of art that continues to inspire generations of artists.

Gloucester is not mentioned in this WSJ article or few major compilations. “Though painted by nationally known and successful artists at the top of their game, the works have suffered from a perfect storm of anonymity.”

Catherine Ryan, 2012

*The quantity of murals is 68 if one includes the five O’Toole murals from the 1940s. Note: because the Gloucester murals are multi-piece or series, the sections tally up to a whopping 75-90 count.

Selection of some murals on view (when open).

Gloucester’s murals at Sawyer Free

Within Sawyer Free Library are the city’s only New Deal works painted directly on plaster walls. Frederick Stoddard’s designs throughout the Saunders house encompass the first floor entryway, two story stairwell, and 2nd story wrap around stairwell hall. He described this two-story “decoration” above wainscotting upstairs and down as “a conventionalized treatment of the Gloucester region”. Familiar scenes include Dogtown “Moors”.

Marine scenes wrap around the former children’s space on the top floor.


A Gloucester Daily Times article from 1934 mentions a trifecta opening honoring the architectural overhaul for the building, new murals, and Rachel Webber’s retirement:

“July 25, 1934- “The public reception at the Sawyer Free Library yesterday afternoon was for three purposes: to observe the 50th anniversary of the occupancy of the present building, to give a public showing to the mural decorations recently completed by Fredercik L. Stoddard and to the entirely restored and renovated building, and to recognize 44 years of service by Miss Rachel S. Webber, librarian who is to retire in the fall…The building has been completely repaired and largely restored. The three story tower which had been built on the front of the building has been removed*, as has the old porch which extended across the front of the house, leaving only an entrance porch. A bay window facing Dale avenue which the architects decided spoiled the character of the building has been sliced off. Everything has been painted and repaired and new lights have been installed.”   

*all work near murals!

Howard Curtis assisted Stoddard with some repair work as a result (and was brought back again in 1953, 1974, and 1976-1980). In 1935, Curtis was busy completing his original “The Creation of Light” commission for the Methodist Episcopal Church on Prospect Street (now apartments).

O’Maley

Within O’Maley Innovation Middle School are a complete though out of order Frederick Mulhaupt series (originally at Maplewood); a partial and crucial section from a 2nd immersive series (originally at the High School); and “Our Daily Bread” by Frederick Stoddard, cropped. There are important works by Larry O’Toole commissioned by Ben Pine for the Gloucester Fishermen Institute and YMCA that were painted in the 1940s. Ron Gilson, Gloucester native, author and local historian, helped with the attribution and remembered the completed art being carried out the door. Gilson was great friends with Ben Pine, his first boss, and knew O’Toole.

above: sections from Mulhaupt’s fantastical “Landing of the Viking Thorwald in Vinland” 1935; and central panel “Gloucester harbor” 1936 | below: DPW inspecting the O’Toole 1940s murals (photo 2015)

Gloucester DPW helping inventory O'Toole murals gift to Gloucester commissioned by Ben Pine ©c ryan 2015

The Gilsons visit the murals at O’Maley, portrait © c ryan, 2018

City Hall

Within City Hall, there are 10 monumental New Deal murals by four artists: Charles Allan Winter, Frederick Stoddard, Frederick Mulhaupt, and Oscar Anderson. Three are multi panels so the collection in this building seems much greater than 10 murals. The Winters in the lobby and Kyrouz were site-specific for City Hall.

One is a small Stoddard panel from a triptych spanning 65 feet for Eastern Avenue School!

I’ll follow up with posts detailing more biographical information about the artists.

Does a pair of Gloucester Forbes school murals jog your recall?

The City of Gloucester murals have the potential to be listed among the nation’s most concentrated holdings of New Deal art from the 1930s and 40s on public view anywhere today. However, they are not all on view. Historic murals not on display await further conservation treatment.

Frederick Stoddard set up a studio in an unused room of the Point Primary School in East Gloucester to paint a variety of panels for the Forbes school. African animals by a waterhole, “the only liberty was animals all close to each other and peaceful,” accompany scenes of wild animals & birds and domestic animals. An underwater scene of local fish and vegetation is missing. I imagine every child and adult found it impossible to settle on just one favorite animal.

The largest composition stretched almost 20 feet. Joseph Nunes helped Stoddard with the installation.

This pair from the series were set over the doorways leading to classrooms. Each measures 5′ x 5′, so tall ceilings. Do they look familiar?

Did you attend or are you related to someone who was enrolled at the Forbes elementary school in 1935? Perhaps you visited one of the special viewing days set aside for the public. Fun fact: There have been seven Forbes school locations if we include the two modulars from the 1920s.

Oscar Anderson painted seven soft hued and dreamy murals for Hovey School including three panoramas. Four smaller works from this school are missing since ca.1972 or later. Does seeing a few of them together help you picture the Hovey school interior?

Sited in the Office of the Mayor

On loan NOAA headquarters, lobby

WPA District Briefs – 1930s

Beyond art, Gloucester benefited from multiple New Deal projects big and small. The Jodrey State Fish Pier was a Public Works Administration (PWA) biggie. Emergency funds allocated through the Treasury department paid for new public buildings like Gloucester’s post office.

The WPA helped Gloucester finally cap off the new track and field on Centennial. For years Gloucester residents were asked to dump their trash to build up landfill. The recreation space (now New Balance Field at Newell Stadium) was recognized nationally and dubbed, “Gloucester WPA Centennial Avenue Athletic Field”.

“The benefits of men working has changed unsightly, unhealthy Gloucester dumping ground into a modern fully equipped athletic and recreation field.”

1937 WPA bulletin

WPA Athletic Field 1937 – before GHS (Gloucester vista painted by Edward Hopper, now at the MFA)

Super complimentary letter from Colorado in response to the Gloucester story:

“I have just received your bulletin of October and I cannot refrain from writing to say that I think your inside spread showing the original dumping grounds, the football game, and a panorama of the athletic field at Centennial Avenue Gloucester, is one of the most remarkable photographic histories for public information that I have seen. How fortunate it was that your photographer saw it to get that first picture. It merits very widespread contemplation.”
Very respectfully yours,

ERNEST W CORN
Assistant State Administrator Division of Information Service. Denver, Colorado

GHS Football players- recognize anyone?

The field also gained coverage with other WPA football projects

Before: Gloucester Dumping Ground (GHS)


Stage Fort Park

WPA salvage work helped to build a new seawall at Stage Fort Park for flood and erosion control – “More than 3500 tons of stone set in cement were required in the construction of this 1100 foot WPA sea wall at Stage Fort Park, Cressey Beach, Gloucester. The wall preserves the beach area by preventing water and driven sand from flooding the park property.”

“At City Home, Gloucester, WPA razed a dilapidated wooden structure and built an all-stone garage and storage shed. These buildings will be used jointly by the City Home and the Welfare Department.”

Contributions in support of murals needing treatment can be sent to the “City of Gloucester”, note for mural conservation, City Hall, 9 Dale Avenue, Gloucester, MA 01930

Boston Globe complimenting Gloucester’s gorgeous WPA era murals

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Did you see? Wonderful John McElhenny’s My View article to the Gloucester Daily Times thanking great work by the CPA committee and residents? And more this week in the Boston Globe? Nice to be the successful model. “In Gloucester, residents have leveraged funding for 80 units of affordable elderly housing in an old grammar school, replaced historic lead glass windows at the Cape Ann Museum, and restored Depression-era WPA murals at City Hall.”  Read more of the Boston Globe article here

Since April is National Poetry month it seems extra fitting to pause on the Charles Allan Winter mural–which by the way is notoriously difficult to photograph in that site. Nice job by photographer Pat Greenhouse / Boston Globe.

In 1931, he and his wife Alice Beach Winter, also a successful artist, came to live in Gloucester year round having spent summers since 1914 and building their Mt. Pleasant studio  in 1922.  Poetry was the third mural Winter completed in Gloucester.

Continue reading “Boston Globe complimenting Gloucester’s gorgeous WPA era murals”

Gloucester’s mystery Civil War Era Coat tomorrow CITY HALL 1-4pm

Cat Ryan says have a closer look thanks to Cape Ann Giclee

Hi Joey

Mold and forgotten history has damaged a distinctive 19th century jacket, our very own historic ‘coat of many colors’ worth more than the fabric itself!

80 years ago Roger Babson presented this Civil War era coat to the community during a town wide celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Gloucester High School Cadets, an ROTC forerunner founded by Albert W. Bacheler (b. 1843 Indiana – d.1929 Melrose, MA). Bacheler was an esteemed principal of Gloucester High School for a staggering 30 years (1814-1913), a Civil War Veteran (New Hampshire regiment Army of the Potomac), and a Dartmouth alum.

Chairs for 1500 people were set up in advance of that event! Artist Charles Allan Winter designed the program!

You see, it wasn’t just any coat.

Back then everyone in Gloucester knew Babson and Bacheler and understood the many reasons that this very special coat was a gift for our City. Babson was a key speaker at the event and his topic was solely Bacheler and this coat. School teachers and colleagues said that Bacheler liked to show his students the coat as inspiration, a reminder that one never need to be discouraged. Principal Bacheler told students how this coat was given to him by a Virginia slave who harbored him after his escape from Richmond’s infamous Libby Prison during the Civil War. While this incredible story warrants our attention, verification and further exploration—what a great project for our students!

In 2015, the coat that remains to tell the story is in immediate need of our care.

A concerned parent noticed that the coat near ROTC and Veterans awards and memorials at Gloucester High School had developed mold and brought it to the attention of various folks in town. The coat is everyone’s artifact. The school budget, PTOs, City Archives, city committees, the Cape Ann Museum—none have a budget to pay for this coat repair. The coat has been examined by a professional textile conservator through the Committee for the Arts. This garment needs to be fumigated, cleaned and repaired. It also requires an armature to support it and new display. The estimate for treatment and preparing it for installation is $3800.

Come “see” the coat during Jason Grow’s WWII Veterans’ Portrait Exhibition at City Hall on Saturday, November 7, 2015, from 1-4pm. The coat is too fragile to travel at present and will be represented by a full size photograph thanks to the generosity of Cape Ann Giclee! thank you James!

Donations will be accepted at the event or checks can be mailed and made payable to The Gloucester Fund, 45 Middle Street, Gloucester, MA. PLEASE write “Civil War coat” in memo field on the check. We are setting up a youcaring site and will apply to Awesome Gloucester.

Key to Gloucester City Hall’s City Council in Session 1937 New Deal mural by Charles Allan Winter

Catherine Ryan submits-

The Committee for the Arts is excited to share new “in situ” photographs of Gloucester ’s City Hall murals by noted architectural photographer, Chuck Choi.

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Here is Chuck Choi photographing and Mayor Carolyn Kirk eyeing his composition

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Here’s one featuring Charles Allan Winter’s City Council in Session in the lobby of City Hall (don’t miss our killer ship chandeliers!);

followed by a photo zoomed in to show all 34 figures

followed by a photo of the framed “key” that his installed below the mural, just above the collectors’ windows—more to follow on the key!

There was media coverage in the 1930s for the murals as they were completed, and many times since then. Here’s a fun one: In 1972 Senator William L. Saltonstall (Manchester resident and member of the Massachusetts Senate from 1967-1979) enlisted the help of media to announce a contest to help identify the portraits in some of Charles Allan Winter’s New Deal murals within Gloucester ’s City Hall. The Cape Ann VF insert published a photograph of the Winter mural in Kyrouz Auditorium, The Founding of Gloucester, with the caption: “Senator Saltonstall is offering dinner for two at a Gloucester restaurant to the first person to identify the most real people in the mural painting above.”

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Art Conservation at City Hall Gloucester MA

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Catherine Ryan writes-

Hi Joey

SAVING ART CULTURE HISTORY

Besides the Public Art Challenge that is happening as we speak, the Gloucester Committee for the Arts (CFTA) has other exciting news in January 2013!

Part of the work of the Committee for the Arts (CftA) includes mapping the way for appropriate and comprehensive ongoing preservation plans for the City’s art holdings. The CftA is committed to the preservation of Gloucester ’s irreplaceable cultural legacy for future generations.

Art conservation involves the cleaning, preserving, and occasionally the repairing of works of art. Art conservator, Peter Williams, will be setting up scaffolding in City Hall to commence cleaning on some of our stellar WPA murals by Charles Allan Winter (1869-1942). Williams, who has worked with museums and galleries for over 40 years and began his career as conservator with the MFA, was chosen to perform the restoration and preservation work and to complete the work in Phases as funding allows. The restoration work will be a great chance for everybody to see a very cool crossover of science and arts up close, all the while eyeing some of the very best New Deal art in the country. If you’re visiting City Hall, look up, look around! We know art can be a touchstone for so many learning disciplines. Take this chance to get a behind the scenes look at the preservation of our beloved murals. It’s a real joy to be able to look at art like these special murals, learn more about them and now, too, this opportunity to share awareness about the science of conservation.

Before any restoration work could begin, the CftA for several years spearheaded a fundraising effort and applied for grants for the painstaking process of cleaning and restoring these giant murals. Among the contributors were individuals and foundations/grants, including seARTS/Massachusetts Cultural Council, the City of Gloucester CPA funding, and the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation. Perhaps some readers may have purchased postcards at City Hall on Middle Street walk or coasters at another event all of which have contributed to this fund. With over $28,000 raised, the CftA now has the support necessary to begin Phase I for the first few murals, and will continue to raise more funds to finish the projects. We are so fortunate for these contributions. Thank you!

Here are details from two murals. This series by Charles Allan Winter wraps around the doors and architecture surrounding the lobby just outside the Mayor’s office. City Council in Session fills the space above the collector’s windows (approximately 7 feet high by eleven feet wide). City Government covers the opposite wall. Tucked in and around the arch-topped lunettes, the two-part mural, Civic Virtues, spreads across the two other opposing walls. This Winter series focuses on government themes as befitting their location, and the test of time. They offer special glimpses of our community in the 1930s as they include many portraits from life, great detail, artistry and ideas. Note the boys (youth) in the “planning” section of Civic Virtues clasping pieces from a model of the Gloucester High School .

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ABOUT THE GLOUCESTER COMMITTEE FOR THE ARTS

Made up of citizen volunteers appointed by the Mayor and City Council, The Committee for the Arts was established by City ordinance in 2000 to promote and celebrate Gloucester ’s cultural heritage.  The Committee recently has worked to preserve and increase awareness of Gloucester ’s WPA murals and other City-owned art. Additionally, the Committee develops and promotes educational programs and establishes awards and honors to recognize local artists. It implements a city-wide public art policy.