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As early as 1855, Congress had provided for art in some federal buildings. That year Congress commissioned Constantino Brumidi to paint frescos in the committee rooms of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. (1) In the mid 1930s, the United States remained at the center of a global economic depression. In an effort to provide economic relief to citizens, particularly artists, who were having trouble finding work, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA), created under Federal Project One. Several months later, a subdivision of the WPA called the Federal Art Project (FAP) was developed.
For artists to be considered for the Federal Art Project, they had to apply for Home Relief to confirm they were impoverished, and then submit samples of their work to demonstrate they were actively creating art. Once approved, an artist's stipend was $24 per week. Only a few months after the Federal Art Project was announced, more than 1100 artists were working for the WPA, many in the Mural Division, which included artists like Stuart Davis, Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. (2) In 1934 during the GREAT DEPRESSION, the U.S. Treasury Department, Section of Painting and Sculpture in Washington, D.C., appointed a committee to conduct competition for the painting of murals in new federal buildings. Funding for art or decoration was provided at one percent of the building's cost if construction came in under budget.
A local committee of Frederick Ezekiel BISSELL, Dr. John K. Hancock, Casimir Ignatius KRAJEWSKI, and Kate Keith VAN DUZEE received submissions from local artists and sent their choices to the committee in Washington for its approval.William J. PETERSEN.
Bertrand Adams of Webster City painted "Early Settlers of Dubuque." Among the scenes included in the work are the grave of Julien DUBUQUE, SHOT TOWER, LEAD mine, and a family waiting to cross the MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
Each artist received $956 for his mural. Both murals measured 6 ft. 6 in. by 8 ft. 3 in. and were painted with oil on canvas.
More controversial was the depiction of nineteenth century Dubuque in the auditorium of DUBUQUE SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL. Painted in the late 1930s by Cyril FERRING, the mural was condemned in the 1970s because of its portrayal of women as submissive, AFRICAN AMERICANS as slaves, white males as dominating and Native Americans as social and cultural outcasts. These murals were restored by the extended family of Dr. and Mrs. Darryl Mozena. (3)
In 1991 a new mural was unveiled in the auditorium with images in keeping with the multicultural, non-sexist policy of the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT. Created by artist Carl Homstad of Decorah, Iowa, the mural shows one scene of a construction site with workers of both sexes and including an Asian, Hispanic and Native American. The second scene depicts an office with an African American professional male speaking with a white professional woman in a wheelchair. The artist included himself in the mural as the only white male pouring coffee into a mug labeled "Save the Earth." The mural was paid with donations collected by students from residents and the Dubuque chapter of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE (N.A.A.C.P.).
In 1970 officials of the Telegraph Herald announced that they had commissioned two murals for the newspaper's new lobby. Chosen for the project was Mrs. Richard (Zelma) Clark of Galena, Illinois. A graduate of the Chicago Art Institute, she operated an art gallery and studio in Galena and was a part-time illustrator-designer for the Duane Rice Studio in Chicago. One of the murals had as its theme the Telegraph Herald's heritage beginning with the "Du Bubuque Visitor." The mural included a large photo-reproduction of the front page of this newspaper dated May 11, 1836. Also illustrated was the Peter Smith hand press and type-case used in the era. (4)
In the fall of 2016 Voices Productions began the Voices Mural Project, a series of murals on the sides of downtown buildings in Dubuque. Three downtown murals were completed which were planned to become the start of a larger project in 2017 which would include fifteen murals by regional and nationally known painters. Some of the murals were planned to be highly visible while others might be located in alleys. The Voices Mural Project, sponsored by Runde Auto Group and Humanities Iowa, would eventually become part of a public art walking tour. The work begun was a winner of the 2017 365INK Impact Award. (6)
1. "Art in Federal Buildings," United States District Court-District of Delaware, Online: http://www.ded.uscourts.gov/murals
2. "The Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration," The Art Story Foundation, Online: http://www.theartstory.org/org-wpa.htm
3. Discussion with Dr. Mozena 1/2/2017
4. New Murals of Old Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, August 14, 1970, p. 8
6. "Downtown Murals," 365ink Magazine, February 23-March 8, 2017 Issue #285, p. 16