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The West Virginia New Deal: Blanche Lazzell's Mural in Morgantown.

"I have volunteered to do the decoration back of the judge's seat in the courthouse here [Morgantown] as skilled labor. Will know tomorrow if it is possible now, if not, I will surely write to Washington."--Blanche Lazzell (1)

In a quiet courthouse in Morgantown, West Virginia in 1934, Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956) worked through the night painting a mural that was intended to reflect the spirit of the area, focusing on themes of education, religion, and industry. Entitled Justice, when completed, the mural decorated a central space of the Monongalia County Courthouse (fig. 1). On the left side of the mural, Lazzell represented education with an image of Stewart Hall, a building located on West Virginia University's campus (fig. 2). Reference to religion was made by depicting the First Methodist Episcopal Church, Lazell's place of worship while she was living in Morgantown, located roughly a city block away from Stewart Hall at the top of High Street (fig. 3). (2) Local industry was represented by illustrations of Morgantown Glass Works, Morgantown Brick Company, and coal (fig. 5), all located on the banks of the Monongahela River minutes from both Stewart Hall and the First Methodist Episcopal Church. (3) Given equal emphasis, all three structures are represented as being of equal importance and thus deserving of the protection of justice, illustrated by a hovering scale above them. Meeting the objectives set forth by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and her committee, Lazzell painted a work that showed recognizable subject matter to the people of the town, while also incorporating personal references to reveal that this daughter of West Virginia had returned home for a short time to solidify her reputation as a Morgantown artist. In 1934, the PWAP employed Lazzell while she was home for the winter visiting family, having previously left the area in 1918 to further her artistic career in Provincetown, Massachusetts. (4)

During her time working for the program, Lazzell completed three wood-block prints in addition to the Justice mural. (5) In examining Lazzell's courthouse mural, this article seeks to reveal the significance of her selected themes of education, religion, and industry for both the artist and the community, focusing on her artistic choices pertaining to her modern aesthetic, along with offering better clarification of areas of the mural that have been misinterpreted by Marlene Park and others.

Lazzell, a native of West Virginia and graduate of West Virginia University, was an early practitioner of Modern art in America, creating works that showed a cubist aesthetic she learned during study in Europe. Lazzell's trips to Europe coincide with two different phases of Cubism. During her first trip (1912-1913), she saw works by cubist artists that displayed defining elements of the style such as shifting perspectives, implied movement, and receding planes. This first-hand experience, along with her training with Albert Gleizes, Fernand Legei; and Andre Lhote during her second trip (1923-1924), is visible in both her work prior to 1934 and her PWAP prints and mural. Lazzell's study with Gleizes allowed continued cultivation of her understanding of Cubism. (6) According to Michael Slaven, Gleizes' teaching of Cubism and abstraction interested Lazzell for it "offered a clear and unadulterated modernist vision." (7) Gleizes' works illustrate the idea of multiple perspectives that not only unify the composition, but also the subject was presented with lines and colors that create openness while uniting the entire surface of the work (8) Gleizes also worked with the concept of using translation, movement of one element in accordance to another; and rotation, movement of one element in accordance to itself, in one composition to convey two forms of movement. Throughout the rest of Lazzell's career it is evident that Gleizes' methods, as well as those of Paul Cezanne, were used in the creation of her works including the mural.

During the first one hundred days after Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1932, America saw the creation of many federal agencies, including the PWAP, that were designed to provide financial relief to the jobless and engineer a way to bring optimism back to a nation that was feeling helpless and hopeless. Roosevelt sought the assistance of several men to aid in arts employment including Harry Hopkins, supervisor of the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FERA) and Civil Works Administration (CWA), and later director of the Works Progress Administration (WPA); Edward Bruce, director of the PWAP and the Section of Painting and Sculpture; and Holger Cahill, national director of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Hopkins began funding unemployed artists, actors, and musicians with money from the Federal Emergency Relief Agency in 1933. (9) It has been estimated that during that year, roughly a quarter of the entire workforce in America was unemployed. (10) Bruce established the PWAP in a six-hour meeting conducted at his home on December 8, 1933. Within six hours of the meeting, sixteen regional committees were created throughout the country, and four days after the initial meeting, artists were being employed and placed on the government's payroll. (11) To get word quickly to artists who could benefit from the new program, the sixteen regional committees were each led by a regional art authority, often a museum director; who knew the artists in his given area. (12) The PWAP was created as a way to distribute monetary relief to artists. However, it also had other ambitious aims. According to the late art historian Erica Beckh, these were intended, "First to establish democratic methods of government art patronage; to decentralize artistic activity throughout the entire nation; to encourage the emergence of young, unknown talent; to increase the general public appreciation of the arts; and lastly, to promote a closer interrelation of the artist with his social environment." (13)

By the end of the project, Bruce reported a total of 15,663 works of art that had been created under his leadership, the majority of which were oil paintings, watercolors, and prints. Also included in this count were murals, mural sketches, sculptures, drawings, and poster paintings. (14) At the demise of the PWAP in June 1934, but before the start of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935, the Treasury Section of Fine Art and Sculpture, often referred to as "The Section," was created in October 1934 with Bruce at the helm. (15) The Section focused on mural creation in public buildings, especially post offices. Often works that are referred to as "WPA art" were actually created under the auspices of the Section. (16) The Section and The Project (The Federal Art Project which would later also be referred to as the WPA) existed simultaneously, and often artists working during the 1930s received financial compensation from both organizations. (17)

The Roosevelt administration understood that the visual arts could show a strong impression of a recovering nation to the American people to provide a feeling of hope and optimism. One way was to create murals representing specific regions. Regionalism represented local, usually rural, everyday life. The regionalists' subject matter consisted of themes such as small towns, farms, local traditions, and workers. (18) Elements depicted were to be specific to the location of the mural, and would emphasize characteristics of the region and the local community. (19)

Bruce had strong opinions about what art should be, and disliked anything avant-garde. At the same time, he was not fond of the ideas of the conservative National Academy of Design and the idealized art that its artists produced. Bruce especially disliked the modernist attitude of the School of Paris. (20) He felt neither school portrayed American reality. (21) As the head of the PWAP and The Section, Bruce could regulate the style of the work that was produced. He approved works that displayed local history, topography, or livelihood, and that had absolute authenticity to the region and were naturalistic. (22) PWAP works often included representations of an area's historically important sites. The object of the art was to focus on the American scene rather than on individual artistic expression. According to art historian Karal Ann Marling, the ideal American scene "excluded radical types of abstract art because the artist was required to limit his or her creative activity." (23) The work was to emulate aspects typical of the region where the work was being created, not to showcase experimentation. When Holger Cahill took over as the national director of the WPA, he too became a strong advocate for establishing a specifically American aesthetic. He wanted an art form that would appeal to the general public, one that was indigenous to the United States and would allow artists to feel like citizens, and society to feel as a participant in the arts. Artists could now be respected for having viable careers, and through the use of community art centers and art classes, the public was able to experience a deeper engagement with the art world. Cahill went so far as to write that, "A sympathetic and discriminating public is a necessary element in the development of a national art. It alone can create an environment in which the artist can function freely and fully.... American art is declaring a moratorium on its debts to Europe, and turning to cultivate its own garden." (24) It was Cahill's fortitude that gave artists the opportunity to experiment and to find a way to illustrate American Modernism.

Lazzell's employment with the PWAP lasted roughly four months, but within that time she accomplished a great deal. She produced three white-line wood-block prints during her first contractual period with the program, from January 20, 1934 to February 15, 1934, that illustrated certain landmarks around Morgantown. Evident in her prints is her training with Gleizes. Lazzell's buildings show multiple perspectives and the use of flat plans of color to further enhance the abstract qualities of these landmarks. Out of the three prints it is Lazzell's The Campus, W. Va University, Morgantown (fig. 9) that best reveals this influence.

Lazzell subsequently painted the Monongalia County Courthouse mural during her employment extension from March to April 1934. (25) In a letter to Grace Martin Taylor, her former student and a distant cousin, Lazzell discussed her responsibilities with the program, saying, "I was invited and was given a job of doing prints of Morgantown's historical buildings and scenes. Starts January 20, which was late but my engagement ended the 15 of February. But from what I heard it was extended." (26) Lazzell's weekly PWAP salary was $26.50, which would later be reduced to $23.85. (27) After her first contractual period, Lazzell's extension was offered with the understanding that she would print more white-line prints. However, she ended up painting the mural during this time. The exact dates of her employment are referenced in a letter dated March 6, 1934, from John O'Connor, Jr., the Secretary of the Regional Committee, and the person responsible for keeping track of Lazzell's progress with the program. As O'Connor wrote, "The Regional Art Project Committee authorizes the renewal of your employment from March 1st to April 15th at the rate of $23.85 per week. Since this notice will not reach you until March 7th, you will be expected to work a week longer than April 15th. For that week you will receive no compensation." (28) Charles Baker, a Judge for the State of West Virginia Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court in Morgantown, wrote to Homer Saint Gaudens, Regional Director of the Public Works of Art Project, on March 6, 1934 in support of Lazzell. Judge Baker's letter explained to Saint Gaudens that the Monongalia County Courthouse had undergone redecorating in accordance with a grant they had received to refurbish the courthouse, and that he wanted Lazzell to be given permission to paint a mural for a blank portion of wall located behind the Judge's bench. (29) He informed Saint Gaudens that Lazzell had presented him with a few illustrations of her ideas, and the members of the courthouse had selected one to decorate the newly renovated building. Judge Baker asked Saint Gaudens, "Will you please advise us how we can secure the services of Miss Lazzell through your project for the purpose of having this panel painted?" (30) Lazzell would later learn she had received the commission.

O'Connor wrote to Lazzell the following day, March 7, 1934, informing her that this was the second letter of inquiry Judge Baker had written to the committee requesting her assistance. He wrote, "If you feel that you can complete the decoration which Judge Baker desires, that is, within the six weeks period of your employment, I authorize you to confer with Judge Baker and to proceed with the decoration." (31) O'Connor asked Lazzell to send word back to him as soon as possible if she agreed to these terms. Lazzell had already completed the three wood-block prints she had committed to during the first portion of her contract (January to February). Though her extension period was initially intended for continued print making, it would instead be consumed with the creation of the mural. (32)

By the time of his letter to Saint Gaudens, Judge Baker had already asked Lazzell to present him with some sketches of what might work best for the mural space. (33) In her sketches, themes of education, religion, and industry are illustrated and denoted as such. Her submitted sketches were produced in accordance with other popular content that was represented in public murals for the PWAP and WPA such as "religious, patriotic, cultural, and or industrial themes." (34) The mural evidences what Edward Bruce had stipulated as one of the goals of the art produced under the PWAP: that work display daily living in the region the art was created. (35)

The Mural

The task of painting a mural was more labor intensive and required more planning than Lazzell's print projects. Lazzell is not considered a mural artist, having only previously painted a single mural. She had completed all three prints in roughly a six-week time span, and was asked to paint a mural, measuring 95" x 146" x 1" within the same timeframe. Once she began work on the mural, she often found herself to be the only one in the courthouse, working after hours in the solitude of the courtroom with no defendants or prosecutors, no jury of peers, and no judge present handing down a final verdict, Lazzell was left to her own contemplation. In solitude Lazzell assessed her feelings toward the mural and composed a poem that describes her time spent working in the stillness of the empty courtroom. The poem alludes to her connection to Morgantown and her artistic interest in the mural:
   The courtroom is cleared
   The judge the jury gone
   The prisoner has returned to his cell
   The artist alone remains.
   Silence silence every where [sic].
   Even the street traffic has
   ceased to rumble!
   The sky is clouded
   A storm approaches
   after days of heat.
   The tender leaves that
   have never felt the touch of rain.
   Nor heard the crash of thunder
   nor seen the flash of lightning--
   Tremble and wait.
   Their first approaching cloud.
   The artist alone in the
   silent hall.
   Slowly wields her brush
   upon a giant canvas.
   Slowly and silently emerges
   her sense of justice.
   Science, religion, work--
   united in harmonious form and color
   And the river
   Flowing between the green hills beyond,
   expresses peace--
   Above all hangs the
   balance--Justice. (36)

In line twenty-four of the poem Lazzell states the composition is, "united in harmonious form and color" alluding to her cubist choices and unification of reduced forms of her three themes. The buildings in the foreground bring the viewer's eyes to the surface of the work. The representation of Maidsville pulls the viewer's attention further into the composition. The hanging scale returns one's focus to the surface. This emphasizes the idea that surfaces either recede or project within the composition. The overlapping of planes is essential in conveying depth. This concept not only is evident in Lazzell's mural but was a primary philosophy of Cezanne's. (37)

Lazzell did not compose a poem for her prints. One reason for this may have been that the mural reflected her personal connection to the region more than the prints. Lazzell's themes show landmarks that have a personal connection to her upbringing; the school that educated her, the church that provide spiritual guidance, and the old homestead. The prints delivered what her committee members wanted to see, and presented two themes later reiterated in Lazzell's mural: education, seen in The Campus, W.Va. University; Morgantown (fig. 9), and industry, seen in Monongahela at Morgantown (fig. 10). (38) The mural has symbolism that not only met Bruce's objective for the program by showing the unique characteristics of a region in which the artist worked, but also had personal symbolism for Lazzell. Personal content was not something the program favored, and they wanted to limit artist's inclusion of a personal agenda. Lazzell's mural displays specific themes that are in accord with her poem, which furthers the concepts of science, religion, and work in Monongalia County.

Lazzell made aesthetic choices in response to program stipulations that are evident not only in her work but also in other government-sponsored artists' works during Roosevelt's administration, which tended to have a bias against abstraction. (39) This is most likely why Lazzell was told by her committee in Pittsburgh to create works that showed elements that would reflect Monongalia County, and would be recognizable to the people who lived there. The program's leaders and regional committees were "suspicious of anything experimental, unconventional, or possibly titillating." (40) Lazzell did keep to the regulations, but found areas where she could make modifications without too much experimentation.

It is important to look at the mural from the standpoint of its formal properties and note how its aesthetic qualities relate to Lazzell's European modernist training. Lazzell employed the philosophy of an artist who was influential for the cubists: Cezanne. Cezanne's reduction of forms to their essential elements, use of "flat depth" (composed with overlapping planes and relying on color theory), and development of shifting perspectives can all be found in Lazzell's work. (41) Cezanne's awareness that a person does not stand in one position, but moves and thus experiences multiple view points is an attribute that Lazzell employed in her finished mural. This is evident upon viewing her representation of Maidsville where it may be geographically correct depending on what position the viewer is taking. For example from the vantage point of Stewart Hall, Maidsville is in the wrong position just as it is when viewed from the representation of industry. However, when viewed from the angle of the church, Maidsville is geographically correct. This further reinforces the idea that Lazzell combined multiple viewpoints in this mural.

In order to accommodate the wall space behind the judge's bench, the canvas mural Lazzell created was arched on the top and right-angled on the bottom, giving it an almost bell like shape. (42) In preliminary sketches Lazzell documented the measurements of the space and included the existing columns that flanked it. (43) Owing to the amount of attention Lazzell gave to the space, the mural fit perfectly within the parameters.

The mural can be divided into three thematic parts when viewed from left to right. The scene on the far left side of the mural shows a depiction of Stewart Hall that is frontal, but not parallel to the picture plane (see fig. 2). In reality, Stewart Hall is situated on an elevated plot of grassy land with small bushes nestled against the building and a set of stairs leading to the front door from the sidewalk. The Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style of Stewart Hall is juxtaposed with the English Gothic revival style of the church next to it in the mural, the First Methodist Episcopal Church. The church is in the center of the composition. In actuality, the church is not situated that close to Stewart Hall, rather; it resides roughly a city block away. Lazzell does realistically situate Willey Street in front of the church's entrance and North High Street along the right side of the church. (44)

In the right third of the composition Lazzell incorporates the Morgantown Glass Works and the Morgantown Brick Company on the bottom right of the canvas, along with an illustration of coal (fig. 5). (45) Lazzell accurately places the factory adjacent to the river; however, in reality the glass factory is nowhere near the church. The Glass Works was roughly a mile away from Stewart Hall and the church (fig. 6). (46) Though not in its historically accurate location, the glass factory is represented with its pronounced smokestack the way Lazzell would have seen it in 1934. (47) Lazzell represents thick, dark, two-toned stripes of smoke that bellow out from its smokestacks, thus the glass factory appears to be in full production. Though there were several glass factories located in the area in 1934, there might have been a few specific reasons why Lazzell chose this one. Morgantown Glass Works is known for its lead crystal glassware that was not only popular in Morgantown but also outside of West Virginia. (48) Along with having a reputation for this crystal production, Morgantown and West Virginia as a whole have a diverse cultural melting pot of people working in multiple forms of industry. At Morgantown Glass Works there were Belgian and Austrian artisans who specialized in particular types of glass production. (49) Lazzell, to reinforce the importance of industry in the region as well as the spirit of the Morgantown people, might have chosen this particular glass factory, knowing its history. Next to the glass works is a representation of the Morgantown Brick Company's distinctive beehive kilns (fig. 8). The references to glass and brick factories were two of three examples of industry Lazzell chose to represent Monongalia County. (50)

Though Lazzell did not depict an actual working coalmine in the region, she made a general reference to coal in Morgantown. Located behind the Morgantown Glass Works' smokestack and to the left of the brick kilns are three slender, black smokestacks, two of the same height located side by side, and a somewhat taller one to their right. These smokestacks are not affiliated with glass manufacturing, but more likely associated with mining. (51) Tall smokestacks are used in coal mining to release air pollutants high into the atmosphere so they will not affect local air quality. This would mean that Lazzell's mural references three different types of industry found in and around Monongalia County: glass, brick, and coal production. This awareness of the different forms of industry furthers information found in Marlene Park's essay on Lazzell's mural where only two forms of industry are identified and the types of stacks are not differentiated. (52)

In the center of the painting, behind Stewart Hall, Lazzell depicts the hilly terrain across from Morgantown found along the Monongahela River and in other areas of town. A road leads to a small farmhouse situated among a few sporadically placed trees. This road leads to Lazzell's miniature image of Maidsville, a small rural town across the river from Morgantown, where her family home was located. A historic photograph of Lazzell's family home in Maidsville, and a preliminary sketch showing this same farmhouse, confirms that Lazzell did paint a representation of Maidsville in the mural. In both pieces of documentation the family home is shown as a two-story farmhouse with a barn, pasture, and trees adjacent. Written on the bottom left corner of the sketch is, "C.C. Lazzell's Place." C.C. stands for Cornelius Carhart, who was Blanche Lazzell's father. (53) In the mural Maidsville is not accurately located because, in fact, it is situated just north of Morgantown on the opposite end of town compared to where it is placed in the mural. This is due to Lazzell's use of shifting perspectives in the mural. However, when physically in Morgantown, Maidsville can be interpreted as being in the correct location in relation to the direction one views each building. The placement of the buildings and of the farmhouse shows that Lazzell was not concerned with geographical accuracy as the town of Westover is directly across the river from downtown Morgantown, not Maidsville. Though Lazzell's depiction of Maidsville may reflect her family home, it can also signify more generally the outlying or rural areas of Monongalia County. Lazzell's mural was painted for the county courthouse, not just the city of Morgantown, and thus references the entire county.

At the top center of the composition, a disembodied hand holds the hanging scale of justice. The scale hovers over Monongalia County as though a symbol of protection for these institutions. Justice prevails and protects the educational system, religion, and thriving industry in the region. The scale is flatly painted and stark in its darkness against the background of the mural. Lazzell may have wanted to make an important point. The scale is not tipped in either direction, but stays balanced. In turn, Lazzell may have wanted to show that all three of her themes, education, religion, and industry, carry the same weight, and no one area of society is more important than another. Lazzell gave the mural the title, Justice, as denoted on the back of a few of her sketches, and in the poem she wrote concerning her feeling towards the mural.

There is one compositional element yet to be discussed: the decision to not include human forms. Lazzell did not paint the sidewalk in front of Stewart Hall populated with students, nor parishioners at the church, nor make any reference to the workers in those factories. Lazzell was not typically a figure painter. The only human representations in Lazzell's body of work are found in sketches and in very few early paintings. However the majority of the murals for the PWAP and WPA, along with murals completed before and after this time, do incorporate images of people. Lazzell's main artistic concern is the form of objects. This is evident not only in the work she produced for the PWAP, but also in her earlier and later works. She produced few images of the human figure. Lazzell's art focuses on her preference for complete abstraction, landscapes, or still-life themes with few images of human form.

On the lower left corner of the mural Lazzell signed her work in black paint, "Blanche Lazzell 1934." In addition, in the very center, just above the supporting beam on the back of the frame, is a white-painted rectangle demonstrating yet another way Lazzell signed this work. Lettering in blue reads, "Composed and Painted by Blanche Lazzell Daughter of Cornelius Carhart and Mary Pope Lazzell 1934." Though the inscription is on the back of the mural, it would become evident if the mural was ever taken down from the wall. To aid in her recognition as a Morgantown artist, she elected to state her lineage on the back. Local citizens who knew her mother and father would be able to associate the mural with Lazzell and her family.

Lazzell, working within the rules and guidelines set by the PWAP and her committee, painted a work that reflects elements not only historically significant to Morgantown, but also relevant to her own life in Monongalia County. Lazzell painted the school that helped to educate her, the church that she and others of her family attended, and the quaint farmhouse in Maidsville where she was raised. Though adhering to the regulations of the program, Lazzell displayed the institutions that helped shape her roots in Monongalia County in the mural.

Though Lazzell often felt her work was not valued in Morgantown and that she was not receiving enough recognition as an artist, she did receive praise for her mural's "essential beauty" several months after it was completed. (54) An article that appeared in the Morgantown Post on November 9, 1934 stated,
   Monongalia County has a genuine art treasure in the mural painted
   by Miss Blanche Lazzell in the recess behind the bench in the
   Circuit Court room. This conviction will grow on any one who will
   take the time to look at the painting from the western side of the
   room, when the light is good and from a point not too close. And it
   will take hold of anyone no matter how deficient he may be in
   knowledge of painting. Look at the painting, look away, and look
   again at the painting, and it grows more satisfying, affords more
   pleasure, with each succeeding study. The work is sanely
   modernistic. Changing tastes of future generations, the rising
   dominance of new "schools," or return of older cults will never
   obscure its essential beauty. (55)

Here, the author makes an interesting point in his write up of Lazzell's mural, stating that the mural is "sanely modernistic." There is a level of recognition that the mural is not like other works, but has characteristics of modernism. This acknowledgment indicates that though the mural references structures that are seen daily in Morgantown, they are rendered differently than how they appear in reality and reveal her modern art training.

Lazzell's four-month period of working in Morgantown proved fruitful with the completion of her three prints and a mural. Though she did receive praise for her work while there, it was not enough to keep her in Morgantown. Lazzell, who usually only returned to Morgantown for annual visits, was leaving again. At the close of her time with the PWAP, Lazzell returned to Provincetown, where she worked for the Works Progress Administration in 1935.

The Mural Today

The Monongalia County Courthouse was renovated in the 1970s. At that time the mural was removed from behind the judge's bench. Lazzell's mural was not the only PWAP mural to meet the fate of being considered out of fashion by that time. Many WPA-era murals were painted over, sketches and prints were destroyed, and statues removed. Some works, if lucky, were crated up in storage units and eventually forgotten about, while others were simply lost forever. Lazzell's work for the PWAP in Morgantown met a different fate. Two of Lazzell's prints, The Campus, W. Va University, Morgantown (fig. 9) and Waitman T. Willey House are housed in the Art Museum of West Virginia University Collection. Lazzell's mural also stayed in Morgantown and ended up at West Virginia University where it remains today. (56) Robert Bridges, the current curator of the Art Museum of West Virginia University, took the mural out of storage in December 2010. Since then the mural has been restored to its original condition.

Lazzell's mural today, though still not under federal jurisdiction, has been conserved and repaired. Grime and the dirt that it had collected since its inception have been removed and the colors brought back to their original brilliance. With the attention the university has given to the mural, Lazzell's legacy will remain in the heart of Morgantown. Though many PWAP and WPA works have met their demise, Lazzell's mural has become part of the permanent collection at West Virginia University and is currently on display at the new Art Museum of West Virginia University that opened in the fall of 2015.

Though her contract lasted roughly four months in West Virginia and she returned to Provincetown afterward, Lazzell's legacy remained in the hills. Her mural reveals the pride that both Lazzell and the people of Morgantown felt for their community, drawing on Mountaineer pride and exposing a love of home. Lazzell's concern about being forgotten by her community has been muted by the reinstallation of the mural. She can rest assured that her artistic history is ever present in West Virginia.

"I realize more all the time that I will have to live another life to do all I want to do toward painting my masterpiece. Yes I do feel it deeper all the time that I do have something to say in my work that has not yet been said."--Blanche Lazzell (57)


(1.) Blanche Lazzell to Grace Martin Taylor, 4 March 1934, Art Museum of West Virginia University Archives, Blanche Lazzell Papers.

(2.) Marlene Park, "The Federal Art Project, 1934-39," in Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist, Robert Bridges, Kristina Olson, and Janet Snyder, eds. (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2004), 235. The church was built in 1903 and at the time of Lazzell's mural was known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church. It is located at 503 North High Street in downtown Morgantown. Today the church is called Wesley Methodist Church.

(3.) Neither the Morgantown Glass Works nor the Morgantown Brick Company exists today.

(4.) Park, "The Federal Art Project, 1934-39," 247. Lazzell was one of two working for the New Deal in West Virginia. Lazzell was the only artist working in Morgantown while Pattie Willis was working in Charlestown.

(5.) The mural does not have an official title; a newspaper article by Gilbert Miller; (discussed later in this article) praising Lazzell's work gives the mural the tile of Justice Over Monongalia County. Lazzell wrote "Justice" on the back of a color study marked No. 4. This study shows a preliminary concept of how the mural would look against the dark wood architectural features of the courthouse. Lazzell's free verse poem also uses the word "justice."

(6.) Michael Slaven, "A Modernist's Grand Tour," in Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist, Robert Bridges, Kristina Olson, and Janet Snyder; eds. (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2004),137.

(7.) Slaven, "A Modernist's Grand Tour;" 137.

(8.) Peter Brooke, Albert Gleizes: For and Against the Twentieth Century (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2001), 36.

(9.) Jane De Hart Mathews, "Arts and the People: The New Deal Quest for a Cultural Democracy," The Journal of American History 62, no. 2 (1975): 318-319.

(10.) Jonathan Harris, Federal Art and National Culture: The Politics of Identity in New Deal America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 18.

(11.) Erica Beckh, "Government Art in the Roosevelt Era: An Appraisal of Federal Art Patronage in the Light of Present Needs," Art Journal 20, no. 1 (1960): 2.

(12.) Karal Ann Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 45. Marling notes that the art authorities "were most often museum directors," 45.

(13.) Beckh, "Government Art in the Roosevelt Era," 3.

(14.) Mathews, "Arts and the People," 335.

(15.) Jarad A. Fogel and Robert L. Stevens, "The Canvas Mirror: Painting as Politics in the New Deal," O AH Magazine of History 16. no. 1 (2001): 17.

(16.) Fogel, "The Canvas Mirror;" 17.

(17.) Fogel, "The Canvas Mirror," 17.

(18.) Heather Becker; "Styles and Themes of the Chicago Mural School," in Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive-and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943 (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002), 96.

(19.) Fogel, "The Canvas Mirror;" 22.

(20.) Marling, Wall-to-Wall American, 44.

(21.) Marling, Wall-to-Wall American, 44.

(22.) Fogel, "The Canvas Mirror;" 22.

(23.) Marling, Wall-to-Wall American, 44-45.

(24.) Wendy Jeffers, "Holger Cahill and American Art," Archive of American Art Journal 31, no. 4 (1991): 9.

(25.) It is unclear how Lazzell found out about the PWAP. In the local Morgantown paper, The Dominion News, there were no advertisements or call for artists from December 1933 thru January 1934.

(26.) Blanche Lazzell to Grace Martin Taylor, 4 March 1934, Art Museum of West Virginia University Archives.

(27.) Park, "The Federal Art Project, 1934-39," 231.

(28.) O'Connor, Jr. to Blanche Lazzell, 6 March 1934, The Archives of American Art [reel 2990],

(29.) Blanche Lazzell to Grace Martin Taylor; 4 March 1934 and Blanche Lazzell to Grace Martin Taylor, 28 March 1934, Art Museum of West Virginia University Archives, Blanche Lazzell Papers.

(30.) Judge Charles Baker to Homer Saint Gaudens, 6 March 1934, The Archives of American Art [reel 2990],

(31.) O'Connor; Jr. to Blanche Lazzell, 7 March 1934, The Archives of American Art [reel 2990],

(32.) O'Connor received word back from Lazzell agreeing to the mural project and wrote in a letter dated 13 March 1934 that she should keep in touch with him about her work's progress, The Archives of American Art [reel 2990].

(33.) Patricia Phagan states: "American muralists in this era generally followed an academic model of preparation, making a series of different kinds of drawings, including sketches of individual figures, compositional studies in black and white, and also in color; studies squared for transfer to a large composition, and full-scale drawings or cartoons." Patricia E. Phagan, For the People: American Mural Drawings of the 1930s and 1940 (New York: Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2007), 3.

(34.) Edward Laning, "Memoirs of a WPA Painter;" American Heritage 21, no. 6 (1970): 45.

(35.) Fogel, "The Canvas Mirror," 22.

(36.) Park "The Federal Art Project, 1934-39," 237.

(37.) Richard W. Murphy, The World of Cezanne 1839-1906 (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968), 80.

(38.) Lazzell completed three prints for the PWAP. Although Lazzell's third print, the Waitman T. Willey House does not display education, religion, and or industry in the region, it is significant to note its place in Lazzell's body of work created for the PWAP in Morgantown.

(39.) Harris, Federal Art and National Culture, 25.

(40.) Harris, Federal Art and National Culture, 25.

(41.) Murphy, The World of Cezanne 1839-1906, 80. The use of over lapping planes and the idea that warm colors advance and cool colors receded aid in the creation of depth.

(42.) Blanche Lazzell, Justice, 1934 oil on canvas, Art Museum of West Virginia University, 2011.19.

(43.) Preliminary sketches of the measurements for the mural and space behind the judge's bench were obtained from the West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.

(44.) The First Methodist Episcopal Church is today called Wesley Methodist Church and has had some renovation work done. In the mid to late 1940s the church renovated their sanctuary. Lazzell's completed mural in 1934 shows the church before renovation (fig. 4). At the time Lazzell painted the mural the church had a stained glass front which, when the sanctuary was re-oriented, was enclosed with stone. The photographic post card shows the church similar to how it appears in Lazzell's mural. This information about the church's history was obtained on 11 January 2012, through a conversation while looking through the church archives with Mrs. Heather Naillei; a life long resident of Morgantown and member of the church and the building and grounds superintendent of the church. Heather Nailler, interview by author, Morgantown, West Virginia, 11 January 2012.

(45.) Morgantown Glass Works was in production from 1899 to 1903. In 1903 the company changed its name to Economy Tumbler Company (1903-1923). In 1923 the company changed its name again to Economy Glass Company (1923-1929). After this change its name returned again to that of Morgantown Glass Works and remained under that name until 1937. This means that while Lazzell was working on the mural the company was called Morgantown Glass Works. The Morgantown Glass Works closed in 1937 only to re-open in 1939 as Morgantown Glassware Guild (1939-1941). The company experienced one more name change in 1941, and was named Morgantown Glassware Guild, Inc. until production ended in 1972. This information is courtesy of Dr. Michael V. Mackert, Assistant Coordinator at the Morgantown History Museum in downtown Morgantown, obtained 10 January 2012. Jim Wiley, "The World of Morgantown Area Glass;" (lecture, Morgantown History Museum, Morgantown, West Virginia, 20 December 2011).

(46.) See figure 7. This photograph taken in the 1950s or 1960s shows the placement of Seneca Glass Company in the bottom right corner, Morgantown Glass works in the center of the photo, and The Beaumont Glass Company in the upper right corner. These companies were situated along the Monongahela River. Morgantown Brick Company is not featured in this image but would have been before the image of Seneca Glass when viewed from bottom to top.

(47.) The glass factory has been identified with the help of a historic photograph and is also confirmed by a preliminary sketch of the glass factory by Lazzell. In the bottom left corner of the sketch Lazzell wrote, "Glass Factory Morgantown 1934." This sketch was obtained through the West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.

(48.) Morgantown Glass Works crystal was so popular that in 1963 Jackie Kennedy commissioned a line of lead crystal glassware in the classic tulip shape for the White House as a way to thank West Virginia for its involvement in John F. Kennedy's presidential win. In 1965, Fostoria bought Morgantown Glass Works and would later claim they had glass in the White House when in fact it was Morgantown Glass Work that did. This information is courtesy of Patricia D. Dudley at the Morgantown History Museum obtained 16 June 2016.

(49.) Not only were immigrants working in glass factories but also people from France, Italy, the British Isles, and Eastern European were working in the coals mines in Morgantown and Clarksburg. This information is courtesy of Patricia D. Dudley at the Morgantown History Museum obtained 16 June 2016.

(50.) Though the glass factory and the brick company are no longer operational, their buildings still stand as a reminder of what once was the industry in the region.

(51.) Through historic photograph documentation it was determined that Lazzell represented coal production in the Morgantown area, courtesy of the West Virginia Regional History Office at West Virginia University. Earl L. Core's The Monongalia Story: A Bicentennial History: IV Industrialization, (West Virginia University and Morgantown Public Library, Morgantown, West Virginia: McClain Printing Company, 1982), 456-457 stated that due to the United States entering World War I, the demand for coal was significant. "Monongalia County became the largest producer with Scott's Run, in the Cass District, becoming one of West Virginia's greatest industrial districts in 1917." Not only did Scott's Run produce coal but in 1917 and 1918 "dozens of coal tipples were erected along the first two miles of Scott's Run and near Granville and Maidsville."

(52.) In her essay, "The Federal Art Project, 1934-39," written for Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist, Marlene Park analyzes Lazzell's color study for the mural, not the mural itself, as the mural was not uncrated and therefore unavailable for analysis at the that time. She notes only the glass factory smoke stacks visible in the study, not any other form of industry. However, the final mural represents three forms of industry; the glass factory, coal, and the beehive kilns used for brick production. Park also does not mention the use of Lazzell's family home in the background of the piece.

(53.) Carhart was Lazzell's father's middle name.

(54.) Lazzell commented on the press she had received for her PWAP contribution in Morgantown stating: "They have given me some very nice press notices. Reproduced my mural in Post but got the write up sadly mixed. So the one of Gilbert Miller is the more exact." In a letter Lazzell wrote to Grace Martin Taylor from Morgantown dated 20 November 1934, Art Museum of West Virginia University Archives.

(55.) Gilbert Miller "It May Interest You," The Morgantown Post, 9 November 1934.

(56.) While under renovation in the 1970s, the courthouse removed the mural from its wall and placed it in the basement for storage. The courthouse moved the mural later to the basement of the county library a few blocks away. Robert Bridges, interview by author, Morgantown, West Virginia, 14 March 2011. West Virginia University took possession of it after that. The mural was later stored behind a false wall in one of the galleries at the Creative Arts Center. In 1994, the West Virginia Regional History curator John Cuthbert at West Virginia University crated the mural and placed it in storage before the Creative Arts Center galleries were renovated.

(57.) Blanche Lazzell to Grace Martin Taylor, 1 July 1937, Art Museum of West Virginia University Archives.

Caption: Figure 1, left. Blanche Lazzell's Finished Mural for the Monongalia County Courthouse, Justice, 1934, oil on canvas, 95"x146"x1". Photograph courtesy of Robert Bridges, Curator, Art Museum of West Virginia University.

Caption: Figure 2, above. Left side portion of Courthouse Mural featuring Stewart Hall, 1934, oil on canvas. Photograph by Kendall J. Martin.

Caption: Figure 3. Middle section of Courthouse Mural featuring the First Methodist Episcopal Church, 1934, oil on canvas. Photograph by Kendall J. Martin.

Caption: Figure 4. This photograph post card was taken prior to the mid 1940s and shows the church before renovation. The stained glass front facade along with the angle of the church in the photograph are exactly the same as how Lazzell painted it in the mural. Photograph courtesy of Heather Nailler, Building and Grounds Superintendent, at Wesley Methodist Church, Morgantown, West Virginia.

Caption: Figure 5. Right side of Courthouse Mural featuring Morgantown Glass Works, 1934, oil on canvas. Photograph by Kendall J. Martin.

Caption: Figure 6. Photograph of the Morgantown Glassworks taken in 1902. Reprinted from H.L. Grant, Greater Morgantown and Its Environments (Grafton, West Virginia, Grafton Printing Company, 1902).

Caption: Figure 7. Photograph from mid twentieth-century with Seneca Glass Company at the bottom right, Morgantown Glass Works in the center, and The Beaumont Glass Company in the upper right corner. Not featured is the Morgantown Brick Company which would have been located below Seneca Glass Company (out of the photograph). Photograph courtesy of Dr. Michael V. Mackert at the Morgantown History Museum.

Caption: Figure 8. Photograph of The Morgantown Brick Company in 1902. Reprinted from H.L. Grant, Greater Morgantown and Its Environments (Grafton, West Virginia, Grafton Printing Company, 1902).

Caption: Figure 9. Blanche Lazzell, The Campus, IV. Va University, Morgantown, 1934, color wood block print, 12x14 inches. Reprinted from Robert Bridges, Kristina Olson, and Janet Snyder, eds. Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2004).

Caption: Figure 10. Blanche Lazzell, The Monongahela at Morgantown, 1934, color wood block print, 12x14 inches. Reprinted from Robert Bridges, Kristina Olson, and Janet Snyder, eds. Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist (Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2004).
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Author:Martin, Kendall J.
Publication:Art Inquiries
Geographic Code:1U5WV
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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