The mural “For the Promotion of Learning, Industry, Skill and Honor” at University of Wisconsin-Stout was created nearly 80 years ago during the Great Depression.
Since 1935 the approximately 33-foot-long painting has graced the south entrance to Harvey Hall, a visual reminder of the school’s polytechnic mission.
This spring, the colorful mural has received more attention than it has in years thanks to 39 first-year students. They have been researching its history, the era when it was painted and the artist, Cal Peters.
Students will present highlights of their research from 5-6 p.m. Friday, April 12, in Huff’s Lounge of the Memorial Student Center. The free event is part of Family Weekend at UW-Stout.
The presentation will be broken down by topic at various tables: the mural; Cal Peters; Peters’ studio in Harvey Hall; the New Deal; 1930s culture in the U.S. and Stout Institute; and other 1930s mural artists.
Students embarked on the project with Harvey Hall due for a major renovation and with the historic building’s centennial approaching in 2016.
“These students have contributed to our understanding of Stout’s heritage,” said Assistant Professor Joan Navarre, who oversaw the research. “The project was a tremendous success.”
Students are from English 102, Art and Design Living and Learning Community; and English 113, the Power of Place, an Honors College seminar.
They made at least two discoveries. Using blueprints they identified the room in the basement of Harvey Hall that Peters used as his studio while he painted on campus. Also, research into the images on the mural led them to information about the central person in the painting, a female who may have been a Stout Institute professor at that time.
The mural is the artist’s rendering of the original Stout Institute motto, which is etched in stone above the east entrance to Bowman Hall with slightly different wording: “For the Promotion of Learning, Skill, Industry, Honor.” Bowman Hall opened in 1897.
Peters completed two other large-scale paintings that remain on campus, the others being “Perrault’s Trading Fort” in Applied Arts and “French Trappers on the Red Cedar” in Micheels Hall. A fourth mural was painted in Harvey Hall Theatre but isn’t visible.
Peters also completed about 12 other smaller paintings, averaging 30 inches by 40 inches, while on campus before moving on to other work around the U.S.
Peters was employed by the Works Progress Administration, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Navarre and her students will submit their research to a website maintained by the University of California-Berkeley that chronicles the ongoing impact of the New Deal.
Two of the UW-Stout student researchers, Kori Klaustermeier, of Boyceville, and Esuvat Mollel, of Tanzania, are presenting their findings at the Upper Midwest Honors Conference in Duluth, Minn.
“Students experienced the research process while combing the Stout archives for clues. They discovered that many sources cannot be found on the Internet,” Navarre said.
As part of the research, students interviewed people in Harvey Hall about the mural and discovered that some people do not connect the mural to the university’s polytechnic mission, know its history or know that it existed.
An event related to Peters’ paintings will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, April 22, at Harvey Hall Theatre. Nationally known art conservator Barry Bauman will give a lecture. He also will look at Peters’ paintings, visit Navarre’s classes and meet Tuesday, April 23, with Main Street Menomonie officials.