Thanks to Local Efforts, A New Deal Mural Is Saved

The newly-restored “Modern Education/School Activities”
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Since its completion in 1942, “Modern Education/School Activities” experienced the wear and tear and water damage that come with the decades. But who knew that this 16’ x 40’ oil-on-canvas mural, Painted by Frank Talles Chamberlain through the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), and hung in Pasadena’s McKinley School library, was so colorful and vibrant? Now, thanks to the McKinley School Mural Restoration Committee, and the painstaking work of conservators, we all do.

Its size and its place of prominence in view of young eyes speak to the importance of “Modern Education/School Activities” as a unique and vital artifact from the New Deal Era. Its conception and subject matter make it even more compelling for historians—and a still-relevant model for community. As Brandon Villalovos notes in Pasadena News Now, “After spending time in classrooms, it was Chamberlin’s idea that students would suggest ideas for the mural’s subject matter….. With a typical Southern California landscape as a backdrop, forty-nine students of different backgrounds participate in a number of activities such as chemistry, sculpture, radio transmission, horseback riding and blacksmithing. The mural conveys the artist’s passion and faith in the power of education.” Connecting the American pursuit of the arts and sciences to Classical ideals, it adds the New Deal twist of imagining this as a communitarian, multicultural endeavor, an under-appreciated pursuit of the era that we are currently chronicling in our “Working Together” page.

You can read about efforts to restore the mural—from fundraising to the work of conservators—and local reactions to its unveiling, in Villalovos’s article, “‘New Deal’ Era Mural at McKinley School, Carefully Restored After Civic Effort Raises $100,000, is Unveiled.”

Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

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