Conservation in Context
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About Conservation in Context
This project began with the recognition that the meaning of artworks changes over time, that what an artist intends and an audience perceives can be very different things. Although celebrated when it was commissioned by the WPA/FAP in 1935, during the 1960s the Evolution of Western Civilization became a target of student unrest. In fact, it remained misunderstood by the majority of students in the year 2000.
In order to successfully conserve this mural, it had to be recontextualized within the school community. Therefore, the project funded by the Open Society Institute encompassed three components: conservation of the 1930s fresco, an investigation of the mural and the New Deal, resulting in this web site, and the creation of a new mural with students in response to the 1930s image.
About the Mural
The Evolution of Western Civilization is located in the library of Evander Childs High School at 800 East Gun Hill Road. The WPA/FAP commissioned the mural cycle in 1935 and it was completed in 1938. It is a true fresco covering 1,400 square feet.
About the Artist
James Michael Newell (1900-1985) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After serving in the first World War, he studied in New York at the National Academy of Design and the Art Student's League, followed by a trip to Paris, where he attended the Julian Academy and Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1928, Newell won the Fontainbleau Prize, enabling him to travel to Italy where he studied frescoes in Rome, Naples and Florence. Shortly before his commission at Evander Childs High School, Newell completed a mural cycle for the Potomac Electric Power Company in Washington, D.C. During the period of Roosevelt's administration he was a favorite artist and several of his paintings decorated the White House.