Art In The Walls: New Deal-Era Mural Rediscovered At UVM

Jun 19, 2019

The mural captures one of those most intriguing geological formations of Lake Champlain. It was created during the New Deal era as part of a program to put Vermonters, including artists, to work. And it stood hidden behind a wall for nearly three decades, until last month. Now the 1930s painting of Lone Rock Point by Burlington artist Raymond Pease will soon be on public view once again after being re-discovered.

Paintings conservator Emily Phillips applied a starch-based adhesive and a covering of tissue paper to preserve and secure the flaking paint during the mural's removal.
Credit PAC Studio LLC, courtesy

Devin Colman, architectural historian for the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, shared the story of the mural with Vermont Edition

The 6-by-9-foot painting was on public display for years. In the 1950s or '60s, it was relocated to Perkins Hall, where the canvas was glued to the wall. 

In the mid-1990s, as “plans changed, and use of the space changed,” Colman says the mural was covered with a false wall. But before it was covered up, faculty left a note with the painting, expressing hope for its rediscovery.

“Faculty retire, new staff come in,” Colman says. “The details had been lost. It really shows our short-term memory is fleeting.”

When the painting was rediscovered last month, Colman says the university brought in a conservator and called in “all the right experts” to get the mural preserved and off the wall.” 

The Pease mural during its removal from the wall.
Credit PAC Studio LLC, courtesy

Painting conservator Emily Phillips was able to take initial steps toward preserving the painting and carefully detached the canvas backing from the wall. 

Colman says importance lies in how the painting links an iconic view of Vermont geology and a local artist to the historical narrative of the New Deal.

“Artists were starving too,” Colman says of the suite of work programs instituted under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“Instead of putting an artist to work on a road crew, building new sidewalks and gutters and so on, why not pay artists to create works of art?”

The genesis for this painting was the notion that “the government could hire artist to create works of art to then be displayed in public buildings. Museums, libraries, town halls, schools and so on.”

“It’s a local artist, portraying a local scene,” Colman says. “So we’ve got this hyper-local component, but then it’s part of this much broader national context of federal support for the arts, during the Great Depression.”

“That story, layered on to the local story, is what makes it really intriguing and interesting.”

The plan now is for the mural to be cleaned, conserved and eventually placed in Delehanty Hall — on the former Trinity Campus — where the Perkins Geology Museum is now located.

“So it will be on display for all the geology students to see when they go in and out of the building every day,” Colman says.

Listen to the full discussion about the Pease mural above.

Broadcast live on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Correction 11:17 a.m. A previous version of this post misspelled Devin Colman's last name. It has been corrected.