Utah State Capitol rotunda murals
In early 1934, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) sponsored ten local artists to decorate the Utah State Capitol, led by Lee Greene Richards. The others included Ranch Kimball, Henri Moser, Gordon Cope, Florence Ware, J.T. Harwood, Walter Midgley and Millard Mallin. Two large half-circle murals grace the ends of the huge central hall of the capitol building. The cupola of the rotunda has a circular mural, about six feet high, and there are four large murals at each corner atop the pillars. They all depict romanticized scenes from Utah’s past: trappers, native people, pioneers, covered wagons, the transcontinental railroad, and so forth.
Millard Malin also sculpted two Native American busts situated near the doors of the Utah House of Representatives. (Photographs needed!)
Evidently, there was some friction among the artists:
“The preeminent work was assigned to Richards, who along with four or five others would be painting images on 4,500 square feet of canvas for the capitol rotunda. The work was primarily created on the floors at the state fairgrounds and then affixed to the capitol dome… In his book, Utah Art, Robert Olpin mentions a conversation he had with Waldo Midgley in 1983, in which he asked ‘if this great public works project were an enchanting experience…’ Midgley’s reply was ‘No!…It was a pain in the neck! Lee Richards was the whole show. He just sat in his studio and made all the drawings, and the boys down at the fairgrounds copied them…All I did were the borders. I worked there for two weeks, and then I said ‘ah, to hell with this, I’m going to go painting!'”(http://www.artistsofutah.org)
Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was established in December 1933 under the Treasury, but paid for by the Civil Works Administration (CWA). The CWA program were replaced by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration [FERA] in 1934, at which time it art projects came under the direction of Judy Farnsworth Lund, a talented artist and able administrator still in her early twenties. “The completion of the Utah Capitol murals was arguably the greatest accomplishment of the FERA and remains a testament to bright spots on a depressing horizon…” (http://www.artistsofutah.org) In 1935, the WPA took over from FERA, sponsoring pubic artworks under the Federal One program.
The Deseret News of March 12, 1934 reported that because of a large earthquake that hit Utah: “B. P. Spry, C. W. A. safety director, ordered all CWA workers out of buildings and out of trenches this afternoon as the possibility of additional quakes became apparent. CWA workers painting in the dome of the capitol building were swung around on the scaffold but fortunately it did not break.” (http://www.seis.utah.edu)
Project originally submitted by Andrew Laverdiere. Revised by Richard Walker on May 11, 2014.
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