For nearly seven decades, students and scholars visiting the Hawley Building, home of the Dewey Graduate Library, have been surrounded by scenes of natural beauty and history while conducting research, writing papers, and cramming for exams. The 4,500 square feet of murals painted by William Brantley Van Ingen in 1937 and 1938 add a sense of endless terrestrial expanse to the already spacious library. Looking up for a moment from a book or computer monitor, one is refreshed by the vivid colors and thought-provoking scenes.
The Hawley Building murals are one of 2,500 mural projects that were painted in schools, hospitals, and government buildings throughout the United States during the late 1930's and early 1940's as part of the depression era's Works Progress Administration. The WPA was the cornerstone of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program. It was responsible for employing 5,300 artists, including W.B. Van Ingen, to help beautify so many of our nation's public interiors. While many of these murals no longer exist due to damage, neglect, or building loss, the Hawley Building murals are still inspiring onlookers today.
Van Ingen (1858-1955) was chosen for the Hawley Building project because of the successes of his mural painting in other high profile buildings like the Library of Congress, the Panama Canal Admisistration Building, and the Pennsylvania State Capitol (links below). Working from his New York City studio, Van Ingen painted the murals on 23 individual 13' x 4' canvas sections, waited for them to dry, rolled them up for the trip to Albany, and then plastered them in place to the walls of the Hawley Building. It is inspiring to note that Van Ingen was eighty years old when completing his work on these murals.
Ten years later at the age of ninety, Van Ingen made the following comments concerning the selection of his subject matter in a letter to librarian Mary Cobb dated September 22, 1948:
"While I may not be able to recall in detail all the authorities I consulted in making the paintings, perhaps if I gave you a sketch of the growth of the idea, it may suffice. My constant thought in all this work was to make something students would be interested in and like. My first impression on seeing the library was to call for a verdure tapestry. Bearing in mind then that verdure taperstries were in the main composed entirely of trees, I made my painting with the trees as the prominent characteristic and the subject matter necessarily in the background."
Indeed, it is the golden, green verdure of the walls that first captures the eyes of visitors to the the Dewey Library and lends an effect of natural light to its space. The burgeoning trees and lush grasses beckon the observer to pause a moment and take it all in. At second glance, however, it is the human scenes that ask library visitors to come a little closer, or pause among the book stacks, so that they may catch a glimpse of history, thereby connecting the past to the knowledge they are seeking in the present.
Reference desk and computer work stations
West wall and front entrance
Van Ingen working in his studio
Deatil of trees
For information about how you can help renew and preserve the Van Ingen Murals, please contact:
Campaign for the University at Albany 1400 Washington Ave. UAB 209, Albany, NY 12222 Phone: 518-437-4969 http://www.albany.edu/giving/
The following links will take you to sites containing information about other mural paintings by W.B. Van Ingen:
Panama Canal Admisistration Building http://www.czimages.com/CZMemories/Articles/ZOPage2.htm
Pennsylvania State Capitol
Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/jefftour/secondfloor.html