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Arts and Culture

Federal Courthouse Mural

The mural entitled “Law and Culture” in the former Federal Courtroom, now the Cedar Rapids City Council Chambers, was commissioned in 1936 by the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). An extension of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policy, TRAP followed other federal jobs programs, like the Works Progress Act (WPA), and the Public Works of Art, the first of many separately funded programs enacted to benefit professional artists. The Treasury Relief Art Project existed from 1935 to 1938 and under the supervision of the Treasury Department employed artists to create paintings and sculptures for existing federal buildings.

The mural is 5-feet, 6-inches high and over 200-feet long spanning the four walls of the new Council Chambers. The four panels of the “Law and Culture” mural were created by a group of artists led by Francis Robert White (1907-1986), including Howard Johnson (1913-1962), Everett Jeffrey (1906-1983), Harry Donald Jones (1906-1995), Arnold Pyle (1908-1973), and Don Glasell (1895-1965). The artists were contemporaries of Grant Wood at the Stone City Art Colony.
Completed in 1936, the courts received complaints for almost twenty years about the murals’ graphic images, and in 1951, Judge Henry N. Graven (1893-1970) had the mural covered. Complaints centered around a scene in the panel on the east wall, “Evolution of Justice,” opposite the jury box. The image shows a frontier criminal on horseback with a noose around his neck, dangling from a tree, followed by an image depicting the arrival of the American court system. In 1961, the whitewash was removed and the murals were once again exposed. In 1964, Judge Edward McManus ordered the mural photographed and painted over again.
In March 2011, nearly fifty years since being painted over the last time, the U. S. General Services Administration utilized a historic preservation grant to hire Page Conservation, Inc., Washington, D.C., to uncover the north wall of the mural. The wall was created by Francis Robert White and depicts “The Opening of the Midwest.” The panel depicts the suffering of American Indians, the struggles of the early settlers, slaves and immigrant workers on the Mississippi, laborers building the transcontinental railroad, the rise of single family farms, followed by industry, tenements and pollution.
In May of 2013, Scott M. Haskins, Chief Mural Conservator for Fine Arts Conservation Laboratories and a team of two other experience mural conservators restored the south wall entitled “Inherited Justice” created by Harry Donald Jones and depicts men discovering, documenting and preserving ancient Indian cultural objects. Tests were done to make sure the chemicals used to remove the overpaint would not damage the original painting; however, during a previous uncovering in 1961 the whitewash was stripped using harsh cleaners that damaged the original painting. Scott and his team removed 5 layers of overpaint, applied an interim varnish to help brighten up the colors and then retouched the painting.
Click here to view a video of the cleaning of the south wall.
Click here to view a video of the retouch and completed look of the south wall.
The City of Cedar Rapids is required by the conservation easement conveyed when the building was transferred to the City from the federal government to assist the GSA in seeking grants to reveal the artwork. The mural restoration process is funded by City funds and matching funds from private donors. The City is responsible for additional work required to repair plaster, adjust ceiling heights and install appropriate lighting. A City Hall Mural Fund has been established at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation to raise additional funds for the remaining mural restoration work.

Mural Lecture Series

2017 - 2018 Mural Lecture Series
A special lecture series, “History Restored: Law & Culture in City Hall Murals” will be offered in 2017-2018 on the historic murals. The community is invited to learn more about these compelling images and the unique cultural heritage they portray by watching video recordings of these presentations.

Opening of the Midwest – Highlighting the North Wall 
Speaker: Mount Mercy University Archivist Kristy Raine
Originally presented November 8, 2017 

Inherited Culture – Highlighting the South Wall, restored in 2013
Speakers: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art Executive Director Sean Ulmer; and Fine Art Conservation Laboratories President Scott Haskins
Originally presented  December 13, 2017 

American Civilizations – Highlighting the East Wall, restored in 2015
Speakers: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art Executive Director Sean Ulmer
Originally presented January 10, 2018

Contemporary Life – Highlighting the West Wall, restored in 2015
Speaker: Legion Arts Mel Andringa
Originally presented February 15, 2018

The North Wall

“The Opening of the Midwest”
Painted by Francis Robert White | Restored in 2011

2015 History Restored Lecture Series: Click here to view the North Wall 2015 Lecture
The scenes on the north wall depict the evolution of the Midwest from native roots through the industrial revolution. At the center, flanking the former judges bench and anchoring the images is a heroic scene of workers building the nation through strength, determination, and will. 

The South Wall

“Inherited Culture”
Painted by Harry Donald Jones | Restored in 2013

2015 History Restored Lecture Series: Click here to view the South Wall 2015 Lecture
The south mural contains several scenes of archeological sites and Mesoamerican culture. The theme of “Inherited Culture” pays homage to our nation’s roots—both scientific and artistic—and the interest the artist had in contemporary Latin American art. The mural contains one of the most intriguing images in New Deal art: an homage to the Mexican artist, Jose Clemente Orozco, shown at work on one of his most famous murals.

The East Wall

Painted by Everett Jeffrey | Restored in 2015

History Restored Lecture Series: Click here to view the East Wall 2015 Lecture
Two compelling scenes make up the majority of the east wall. The first depicts a scene of vigilante justice on the wild frontier and the rise of law and order. The second depicts a scene of witchcraft and superstition, followed by a depiction of the rise of modern medicine. Newly unveiled, the mural was restored amidst some mystery—newspapers included in a scene above the door were discovered missing, with no known historic record of their removal. The scene has since been restored, based on historical images of the original scene.Council Chamber West Final

The West Wall
Painted by Donald Glasell | Restored in 2015

The West Wall, painted by Donald Glasell, was the final mural to be unveiled to the public. The images  beneath the surface reveal scenes of heroic civil servants as they carry out their duties in their community. Scenes include firefighters, police officers, and leaders in government. The West Wall also depicts strong images of women assuming leadership roles in workplace positions. 

Special thanks to...
Restoration of the East Wall was made possible by generous contributions from:

  • Dee Ann McIntyre
  • McIntyre Foundation
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • State Historic Resource Development Program
  • United Fire Group
Viewing the Murals:
The public is welcome to visit the Murals between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on days when City Hall is open. Public meetings are occasionally held in the room. See a list of upcoming public events here.

The Council Chambers are located on the 3rd Floor of City Hall, 101 1st Street SE. 

For more information contact the City Manager's Office at 319-286-5080
© 2024  Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 101 First Street SE

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