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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.).
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. "Downtown Murals," 365ink Magazine, February 23-March 8, 2017 Issue #285, p. 16