America @ Work: New Deal Murals in New London and Beyond

Lyman Allyn Art Museum opens exciting spring exhibition

Lyman Allyn   Art Museum announces a new exhibition, America  @ Work: New Deal Murals in New London and Beyond, opening March  8 and on view through June 9, 2012.  The  exhibition has been organized by Guest Curator Barbara Zabel, Professor  Emeritus of Art History at Connecticut   College.

The lobby  of the New London Post Office on Masonic Street boasts remarkable murals painted in the  1930s.  Hailed by Philip Eliasoph as “the  Sistine Chapel of Connecticut,” these murals by New   England artist Thomas La Farge (1904-1942) feature scenes of a  crew at work on a whaling ship.  La  Farge’s murals were created under the auspices of the art projects of the New  Deal, President Roosevelt’s comprehensive relief program designed to put  Americans back to work during the Great Depression.

The Lyman Allyn   Art Museum is fortunate  to have in its collection the artist’s preliminary studies for the murals;  these are the local inspiration for the exhibition. The aim of America  @ Work: New Deal Murals in New London and Beyond is to bring attention to our often overlooked local treasures in the context of  New Deal murals in other states. The government funded hundreds of murals in  federal buildings across the country, typically providing artists with a list  of topics pertinent to local history.   The artists were then free to choose their own content.  Thomas La Farge was quick to identify whaling  as an apt theme for murals in New London, a city  long known as the “Whaling   City.” Other artists in  the exhibition chose topics such as the cotton industry in North   Carolina, corn harvesting in Georgia,  onion farming in upstate New York, processing  steel in Ohio, and pioneering and mining in Idaho.

Although  the artists included in America @ Work: New Deal Murals in New London and Beyond are from distant corners of America,  they share a focus on working Americans.   More notably, they espouse an uplifting message of pride in American  ingenuity and a belief that the country’s economic woes could be overcome  through hard work—this in the face of the stark realities of life in America, a  country suffering from significant hardship and unemployment during the Great  Depression.

These works  also resonate with today’s economic climate; the American population is again  faced with economic challenges unheard of since the Great Depression. The  government’s establishment of the New Deal art projects of the 1930s provides a  provocative model of how to get America  back to work while also enriching our cultural heritage.

Barbara Zabel, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Connecticut  College, has organized many  exhibitions for the Lyman   Allyn Art    Museum.   Most recently, she served as guest curator of last year’s popular Face Off: Portraits by Contemporary Artists. Again this year, Barbara has drawn  on her teaching and research interests to curate America @ Work: New Deal Murals  in New London and Beyond.   Barbara Zabel has published widely in journals and anthologies; last  year her second book, “Calder’s Portraits, A New Language,” was published, and  she curated an exhibition on the subject for the Smithsonian Institution’s  National Portrait Gallery in Washington,   D.C., which was on view from  March to August, 2011.

The Lyman Allyn   Art Museum’s mission is  to respond and to appeal to the regional community.  In that spirit, the museum has planned an  exciting schedule of programs to accompany this exhibition.  The programs are designed to engage people of  all ages.

America @ Work:  New Deal Murals in New London and Beyond Programming:

Thursday,  March 8

Exhibition opening with a gallery talk by guest curator  Barbara Zabel, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Connecticut College.   Gallery talk at 6:00 p.m.  Reception at  5:00 pm.  Members free, non-members $10.

Thursday,  March 29

“From  Ship to Shore: The Whaling Murals of Thomas LaFarge,” a gallery talk with  Robert Richter, Director of Arts Programming at Connecticut College and  Connecticut College student Elizabeth Petersen. Gallery talk at 6:00 p.m.  Reception at 5:00 pm.  Members $5,  non-members $10.

Thursday,  April 5

“Painters.  Politics & Propaganda: The W.P.A.’s “Paint America”  Project—An Ongoing Legacy,” a lecture by Philip Eliasoph, Professor of Art  History at Fairfield   University.  Lecture  at 6:00 p.m. Reception at 5:00 pm.  Members $5, non-members $10.

Saturday,  April 7

Free  First Saturday

Join us for  an afternoon of free admission, free art activities and free snacks each month.  Hands-on mural making project in the studio for children of all ages from 1:00  – 3:00 pm.

Check the  museum website at for updates and additional programming.

Tours of  the exhibition are available for groups.   To schedule tours, call Director of Education Mollie Clarke at 860-443-2545,  x 110 or e-mail at

This  exhibition is made possible in part by the Frank Loomis Palmer Fund, Bank of  America, Trustee; the Anthony and Elizabeth Enders Fund; the Lyman Allyn Art  Museum Exhibition Fund; and the Department of Economic and Community  Development, State of Connecticut.

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