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Hot Mural Controversy in the O.G.

by Holly Wist on June 23, 2014

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Des Moines Register, April 25, 1951 

From 1900-1940-ish, predecessors of the Des Moines Public Library, Civic Center, the Cumming School of Art and Des Moines Arts Center shared a glittery salmon pink limestone building at 100 Locust. (O.G. Social Club)

During the Great Depression the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P.) paid artists $38-$46.50 a week to create art for public buildings. Grant Wood (American Gothic painter) was the director for the Iowa District of the P.W.A.P. when a project was created for frescos to be painted in the boys and girls room of city library.

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Grant Wood explaining reasons to change to fresco painting for the proposed mural.

The P.W.A.P. provided wages for Harry Donald Jones and a team of assisting artists (Paul Backensten, Opal Adams, Paul Poffinbarger) and construction workers. The city funded the necessary supplies for the fresco.

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Harry Donald Jones laying down chalk outlines for the frescos. (Source: Des Moines Register Oct 25, 1938)

There was some distress about the duration of the project as 1. Frescos are time intensive 2. Harry D. Jones was given a large workload in addition to the library project.

It was asserted that P.W.A.P. artists chose to make frescos because that medium would ensure wages for a longer period of time.

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Details from “A Social History of Des Moines” (Source: Holly Wist)

In 1941 “A Social History of Des Moines” was completed.

In 1948 the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts (Des Moines Art Center) moved out of 100 Locust into their first building in Greenwood Park.

Frescos last a loooooong time, but only ten years after the mural was completed and three years after the Art Association moved out of 100 Locust, the Library Board voted to erase the mural, sparking a hot dispute in the library.

“Removing these paintings will certainly provide a gleam of light for the confused minds of our people who are struggling to see into the dark abyss of modernistic or contemporary art as it is foisted upon us today by ‘trained’ art directors.”

-Alice McKee Cumming

“Considered as art, you can get any opinion you look for, and there is no subject about which there are more passionate disagreements. Our public art, from war memorials down, would fare ill if it were subject to destruction every time a majority of a governing board decided it was bad art. (As most of it probably is).”

-Charles F. Ransom

Correspondence regarding the dispute:

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With the effort of art advocates the mural was saved! Hurray!

And was changed into a storage closet, I mean circulation desk until 2006.

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World Food Prize (Source: Holly Wist)

100 Locust is now the World Food Prize, and can be visited:

Tue 9am-3pm

Sat 9am-1pm

Sun noon-3pm

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References:

Assorted clippings from the Des Moines Register

Estes, Elaine “Architecture and Art History of the Main Library: 100 Locust”

Jones, Harry Donald “Public Library of Des Moines mural information”

“Architecture Overview” http://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/about/architecture.aspx

“A Social History of Des Moines” http://dsmpublicartfoundation.org/public-art/a-social-history-of-des-moines/

Holly Wist is an artist working in Des Moines. WEBSITE