On the landing between the first and second floors of the Humanities-Social Sciences Building sits The Sacrosanct, 1978, a triptych by Edward Boccia, an American poet and painter known for his large-scale paintings in Neo-Expressionist style. It was donated by Morton D. May.
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About the Book
This is the first critical survey of the artist’s oeuvre and will include over 100 color plates of the artist’s paintings, including a number of pieces never before seen in public.
Four thematic sections will highlight the complex and engaging iconography of Boccia’s practice while also discussing his work in the context of 20th century American art history. The book will be printed by the prestigious art and architecture publisher Scheidegger and Speiss, Zurich in cooperation with Park Books and Chicago University Press, 2019. The primary author is Rosa JH Berland, Art Historian with contributions by CC Marsh and Alice Boccia.
Our professional editorial team includes Matthew Dunleavy, Project Editor, and Lisa D. Berland, Copy Editor (Volunteer). Sabrina Xiyin Lin, Project Assistant with Steven Leible, Photography.
We owe a special thanks to the Phoebe Weil, Hillary Kapan and Dr. Kevin Berland for their generosity as well.
The Edward E. Boccia Artist Trust is delighted to announce we have selected Scheidegger & Spiess, one of Switzerland’s leading publishers for art, photography, and architecture for our upcoming monograph EDWARD E BOCCIA -AN AMERICAN ARTIST. This book is edited and written by Rosa JH Berland with contributions by Dr. Alice Boccia and CC Marsh.
It shall be the first critical full length study of the artist’s work and will serve as the authority on an important American artist while engaging in a more general discussion of hierarchies of style and genre within American twentieth century art.
The book will showcase photographs of never before seen artwork, reveal the innermost workings of the artist’s mind and technique and present a picture of creativity in mid century to contemporary America. Publication date is 2019-2020. We are currently in our editing phase and final fundraising efforts.
We welcome support of any kind to help us fund the publication of this innovative book, a first of its kind only possible through the patronage of our friends, family and colleagues. Please visit our donation page at Fractured Atlas, donations are tax deductible as per IRS regulations.
Edward Boccia described his art as dealing with “love, lust and life,” and anyone who has stepped back and taken in his creations would be hard put to disagree. With a vividness that reflects the influence of artists from Max Beckmann to Paul Cézanne while adhering to a unique sensibility, Boccia’s paintings and drawings just about reach out and pull the viewer inside them.
For many years a professor at Washington University’s School of Fine Arts, Boccia died last September at his home in Webster Groves. Boccia was 91, and he had seen a lot, including action as a soldier in World War II. And he transformed quite a bit of what he saw into a legacy of countless images.
Boccia’s work, which attracted the backing of nationally renowned art collector Morton D. “Buster” May, is the subject of two exhibitions: “Edward Boccia: Figurative Expressionist,” through March 3 at the St. Louis University Museum of Art, and “Edward Boccia: Early Work,” opening Friday at the Sheldon Art Galleries.
“He created his own world through his art,” said Petruta Lipan, director of SLUMA. “And his world is very complicated and multilayered.
“You look at his artworks, and you think you know what you’re looking at. But the more you look at it, the deeper and deeper it gets, because he mixes mythology and religion and literary themes within one work. And that’s what makes his work so interesting.”
Philanthropist May (of the May Department Stores, which owned the Famous-Barr chain) was an important figure in getting out the word about Boccia, said the artist’s daughter, Alice Boccia, who is an archeological conservationist.
“He was a huge art collector here in St. Louis, and every year he would come over to the house and look at all the work Dad had done for the past 12 months,” said Boccia, who now lives in Los Angeles. “From, say, 1952 until he passed away in 1983.”
May purchased hundreds of Boccia’s works, keeping them for his collection or giving them to museums, universities and acquaintances.
The exhibition at SLUMA focuses on Boccia’s large-scale paintings, including triptychs (three-panel paintings). The works are displayed with just enough room for spectators to stand back and ponder their meanings. Particularly striking are “Low Tide” (1983), which depicts a bearded man reading a book while impaled on what appear to be sticks rising out of the water, and “The Absolved” (1984), a portrait of a male and a female who have fish heads but human genitalia.
In contrast, “Edward Boccia: Early Work” is more intimate in scope. Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, director of the Sheldon Art Galleries, said the exhibition — which focuses on drawings and paintings made between 1941 and 1969 — sheds light on a different side of Boccia’s artistry.
“It gives people another view of what he was like as an artist, and his interests,” she said. Among the pieces are “drawings that he made during World War II, or right at the end of World War II, of fellow soldiers and people that he met in France and other places.
“You can see the influence of the Old Masters in his work,” Lahs-Gonzales said. “Also, people like Van Gogh.”
Boccia was born in Newark and studied art at Pratt Institute in New York (where he met his future wife, Madeleine Wysong). He is estimated to have created 4,000 paintings, and his work is included in more than 600 private collections, as well as being part of the permanent collections of SLUMA, the St. Louis Art Museum, Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Denver Art Museum and the National Pinakothek in Athens.
It was through May that Boccia became familiar with the work of Beckmann, a German expressionist painter who taught at Washington University in the 1940s, and who had his first U.S. retrospective in St. Louis in 1948.But whereas Beckmann merely passed through St. Louis, Boccia – who came to Washington University in 1951 as an assistant dean – spent most of his life here.
“I can look at his work for years, and I still find something new,” Lipan said.
‘Edward Boccia: Early Work’
When • Friday through May 18. Opening reception is from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday; galleries open until 8 p.m. Regular hours are noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and beginning an hour before performances and during intermission.
Where • Sheldon Art Galleries, Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery, 3648 Washington Boulevard
How much • Free
More info • 314-533-9900; thesheldon.org
‘Edward Boccia: Figurative Expressionist’
When • 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; through March 3
Where • St. Louis University Museum of Art, Aronson Gallery, 3663 Lindell Boulevard
How much • Free
More info • 314-977-2666; slu.edu/sluma.xml
All Rights Reserved, The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Art Trust.
Edward Boccia dies -Washington University teacher and artist who became famous by doing things his way
May was head of the May Department Stores Co., which owned the Famous-Barr chain. He was an art collector of national renown, with the wherewithal to buy what he wanted.
Each spring, he visited Mr. Boccia’s studio in Webster Groves to look over works the artist had painted or drawn since his last annual visit.
May bought hundreds of the works, using a truck to haul them back to his home in Clayton. He kept buying until he died in 1983. What he didn’t keep, he gave to friends, colleagues, universities and museums.
In so doing, May became the Johnny Appleseed who spread Mr. Boccia’s work across the country.
Edward Eugene Boccia died Sept. 3, 2012, at his home in Webster Groves. He was diabetic and was diagnosed with pneumonia after he had undergone three surgeries since May, his family said.
Critics say Mr. Boccia created a style uniquely his own.
“He was one of those old-school, down-and-dirty painters who knew how to draw,” said A.J. Brewington, a gallery owner in the Central West End who is his agent. “He was gutsy and wasn’t concerned about whether anybody liked him or not.”
Mr. Boccia was a significant member of the Expressionist movement known for masterfully reconciling tone and color, said Petruta Lipan, director of museums and galleries at St. Louis University.
Mr. Boccia was best known for his large triptychs — three-panel paintings — and polyptychs, many with themes related to Catholic mysticism.
His work is included in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, the St. Louis University Museum of Art, Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the National Pinakothek in Athens, and more than 600 private collections.
Mr. Boccia was born in Newark, N.J. His father was an Italian immigrant who sold jewelry.
Mr. Boccia studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York. With World War II under way, he joined the Army in 1942.
He served in a battalion filled with other art school students. They set up inflatable rubber tanks and artillery along the coast of England to fool passing German planes.
Pvt. Boccia landed on a beach in Normandy a week after D-Day, then served across Europe. He never stopped painting and drawing.
He used art supplies his mother sent from home. He painted from foxholes and cafes when he could. Then he’d roll up his artwork and send it back to his mother.
“He did these during sometimes intense fighting,” said Judith Mitchell-Miller, a retired high school teacher here who owns seven of Mr. Boccia’s works.
He met Morton May, who introduced him to the work of Max Beckmann, a German Expressionist painter who had taught at Washington University in the late 1940s.
Mr. Boccia became a popular teacher. “He knew what was good in painting,” recalled former student Larry Kozuszek.
Mr. Boccia described his work as dealing with “love, lust and life.”
His works are filled with pagan and Christian themes.
A tragic influence on his life was the 1984 death of his son David at age 36.
Living in St. Louis and working at the university, he said, gave him the security “to paint what I want to paint. I don’t paint things that look well over the sofa.”
Mr. Boccia left behind some 1,400 paintings. His daughter, Alice Boccia of Los Angeles, is trying to locate and catalog all his works on his website.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Catholic Student Center Chapel at Washington University, 6352 Forsyth Boulevard. A private burial was held at St. Paul’s Churchyard.
In addition to his wife and daughter, among the survivors is a granddaughter.
EDWARD BOCCIA/ PHOTOGRAPHY BY FRANK DI PIAZZA
In the magazine world, there are a lot of aborted articles. In 2011, on a rainy September afternoon, I went to artist and poet Edward Boccia’s house to interview him for an article that would never make it into St. Louis Magazine. Not sure what to do with the interview, I transcribed it and waited, since he’d told me SLU planned to do a retrospective in 2013. Unfortunately, Boccia died in September 2012. He was 91.
Now, The Saint Louis University Museum of Art and the Sheldon Art Galleries are both hosting exhibits featuring Boccia. SLUMA’s exhibit, “Edward Boccia: Figurative Expressionist” opens today and runs through March 3. It includes many of the award-winning artist’s expressionist triptychs and paintings like his “Enigma Portrait.”
For “Edward Boccia: Early Work” (February 22–May 18), the Sheldon Art Galleries assembled 40 drawings and paintings that Boccia made between the ages of 20 and 48. Born in 1921, Boccia’s artistic talent was recognized at a young age. He studied at the Pratt Institute in New York before serving in World War II. When he returned to New York, he studied at Columbia where he got his bachelor and masters degrees. He became dean of the Columbus Art School in Ohio while finishing his masters. In 1951, he came to St. Louis with his wife Madeline, where he worked at Washington University’s School of Fine Arts until his retirement in 1986.
St. Louis Magazine: How did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Edward Boccia: Well, when I was at school as a kid, arithmetic was my downfall. It’s too abstract. But I loved to write and, of course, I loved to draw and paint. I was the kind of kid that knew I was an artist from the day I was born. I knew what I was going to do, and I was very popular in grade school. The teachers would have me go to their different classrooms now and then and draw stuff on the blackboards. So I was just an artist from age 3.
SLM: And you’re a published poet. Did you start that early on, too?
EB: I remember one substitute English teacher in high school read a poem of his, and I was so startled by it. That was the first big influence. It only took a couple of minutes for this young man to recite his poem, and my head just flipped over. But I didn’t really take it seriously, because I was always the painter. [But while teaching at Wash U] one of the students asked me if I write poetry, and I said no. And she said, “Well, you sound like a poet when you give us crits. Maybe you should write poetry.” I let that go for a couple years. Then it finally hit me: “Maybe I ought to try it.” So there was this guy… he’s poet laureate of Missouri [now], Dave Clewell. While I was teaching, I signed up for a poetry thing at night in arts and sciences. He was a terrific teacher and, even though he was still a student, he just had it, you know. And he got me going.
SLM: Your work often uses religious imagery. Were raised in a very religious home?
EB: No. My father was born in Italy, so I’m of Italian descent. My mother was born here, but her parents were born in Italy. So it was Catholicism. And, as usual, as a kid they make you go to Sunday school and go to Mass. I didn’t realize it, but it had a profound effect on me, because I’m not, unfortunately, a strong churchgoer. I should be. I once did a big mural at Wash U in the Student Catholic Center.
SLM: It was pretty controversial.
EB: Yeah, some of the old folks in the congregation wanted to paint it out. One rich guy—I don’t know who he was. A priest told me this—He told the priest, “I’ll give you a million dollars if you paint that out.” But I heard that the students and a lot of people rebelled and wrote letters and saved it.
SLM: Was that your first mural?
EB: Yeah, well I’ll tell you. It really wasn’t because when I was a kid my parents were all for me being an artist.
SLM: That’s good.
EB: Well you see that’s the Italian background. The arts are considered spiritual in Italy. I was a teenager, and I asked my mother—we lived in a big house in Newark New Jersey where the walls were kind of tall—if I could paint a mural on the wall behind my bed. And she said “Oh, sure Ed, go right ahead.”
SLM: What did you paint?
EB: [Laughs] I painted four huge male figures, and I used house paint, just black and white and gray. I had big brushes and pails. I think back, and can you imagine my mother saying, “Go ahead?” That’s how they were. My parents thought it was terrific. My father sold the house years ago, and I assume the new people papered over it, but it would be nice if I could go back there and have them take down the paper. I’d like to see how it looked.
SLM: What did your parents do?
EB: My father was a salesman. He came to this country [when] he was really very young. He told me and my brother that he only had 18 cents in his pocket. But in downtown New York he got acquainted with somebody who knew somebody and got him in as a salesman of jewelry. He was just an immigrant speaking with an accent, but all of his customers were Italians [Laughs].
SLM: You have a brother?
EB: He died about 10 years ago… The war came, and we both went into the war as soldiers. He was badly wounded in one of the battles against the Japanese. He recovered, but then he developed a disease called Pagets. They have a cure today, but they didn’t then, and he spent the last 8 years of his life in bed.
SLM: What did you do in the war?
EB: I went into a camouflage battalion. [The U.S. Army] wanted art student graduates, because we would know something about seeing. [Laughs.] It didn’t really work out. One of the camouflage methods everybody used was to put this big net with garlands woven in [it] on the tank. Since we were artists, we would know how to color the garlands. We did that for about a year—training in the states. Then somebody manufactured rubber dummies of those big Sherman tanks. It fit in a bag. We’d pull it out and blow it up with a compressor. It looked real as hell.
SLM: Did you see much action?
EB: One [battle] I remember was the Rhine crossing. We put up all our stuff for hundreds of miles in front of the Rhine, south a bit from where the real troops were going to cross, hoping that the Germans would aim at us. It worked, and we got a citation. We were told we spent three years in the army just for that one week.
SLM: What did you do when you left the army?
EB: Well, I went back to Brooklyn, because all my friends were there. I was totally confused.
EB: I found civilian life very difficult, because you’re free. Well, it’s hard to be free. You gotta work! After three years in the army, you get to be completely dopey. You don’t have to think. They don’t want you think. They don’t allow you to think! And so the adjustment was terrible. And then some of my friends said, “Oh, President Roosevelt made going to college free.”
SLM: The G.I. Bill.
EB: Yeah, the GI Bill. And so I said, well OK, I’ll go to school because maybe I’ll learn something, and maybe I can teach art, so I won’t starve painting. Well, that was the best decision I ever made. I transferred [from Pratt Institute] to Columbia [University] it was a real school. Pratt was strictly an art school. You just got a certificate, but that’s where I really learned art and the grammar of drawing and painting. It was a great school. When I was about to graduate [from Columbia] I wrote letters out to other faculty members that I’d had before the war, and this one teacher wrote to me and he said, “Don’t take any job because I want to talk to you about a job in Columbus, Ohio.” The job was dean of a private arts school.
SLM: You were a young dean!
EB: Yeah, I say I started at the top. I started as a dean and it was terrible because there wasn’t enough time to paint. So, I decided I had to get out of there. I wrote letters to various universities looking for another teaching job, and I got a letter back from the dean of the Art School at Wash U [who was looking for an] assistant dean. A step down. So I got the assistant deanship here at Wash U, now that was a little better, but after three years of that I couldn’t stand it because I was forcing myself into a Sunday painter. I begged the dean then to get me out of there, and just put me on the faculty. The heck with all this deanship stuff. He said “But Ed! Ed! You’re going to take a reduction in salary.” As if I cared, you know. [Laughs.] He put me on the faculty. I taught three days a week. That gave me four days to paint, and I swear for 35 years I’ve painted four days a week.
SLM: What did you think of St. Louis when you got here?
EB: Well, I was impressed because New Yorkers—they don’t think they’re provincial, but anything west of Newark, and the hell with it. For them, it’s cowboy and Indians. They’re so dumb. One guy told me one night in New York, a native New Yorker, he said “Oh were do you come from?” and I told him St. Louis. He said, “Oh you’ve come up for air, right?” I could have punched him in the eye.
SLM: Before you went to Pratt, I read that you did the Art Students League of New York?
EB: When I was a kid in high school, I would take the train into New York City to the Art Students League. [I’d] come in and paint from the model and the teachers would come in now and then. I worked for a long time on this nude. I’m a kid you know, 17, I guess. And the painter professor saw it. He was a pretty well-known painter in those days. I had my palette with blobs of color and stuff mixed up, and I had a [bigger] brush among other ones. He took the big brush and picked up all the colors and squished them all together. He went up to my nude that I’d sweat over trying to reproduce a human being, which is nuts and he [makes large painting gestures]. “Oh,” I said, “That’s what painting’s about.” What do I think that I’m God trying to make another human being?
SLM: Do you still paint a lot?
EB: I try my best. You know, as you get older your body changes and now I realize that so much of what we do is not only from reasoning, using the mind and knowledge, but it’s the physiology. It’s the change in the body. It changes the rhythm of the body including the mind, which affects the way you paint.
When appraising the long career of an artist, we tend to focus on the mature style, or the works best known by the public. The exhibition, Edward Boccia: Eye of the Painter, seeks to render another view of the artist’s career, by presenting not only the large-scale allegorical works for which Boccia is known, but also the aberrations, anomalies and hidden passion for the figure that fed the larger body of allegorical paintings.
Edward Boccia-Eye of the Painter – The Allegories. Installed at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA).
Edward Boccia’s career as a painter may be poetically referred to as a grand house with many rooms. Some rooms, although elegant, are lived in briefly. Other rooms, made more comfortable by the artist’s personal associations, are occupied for years. No room is permanently closed. The artist moves freely from room to room, constantly borrowing ideas from where he has stayed before. The paintings and drawings in this exhibition are grouped by thematic concerns beginning with character sketches done in France during World War II and ending with a nine-panel painting, Eugene’s Journey (1996), that draws upon all of the artist’s skills as a painter and poet.
It is with the open eye of the painter surveying the pivotal movements in 20th-century art that we will see the work by Boccia that touches on Cubism and Surrealism, American Regionalism of the 1930s, German Expressionism of the 1920s, and neo-Expressionism of the 1970s. For Boccia all rooms are open today, and it is for us to decide where we should linger.
About the Artist
Mr. Boccia’s career literally spans a lifetime. His paintings and drawings have appeared in over 40 solo shows and 121 group shows, including The Smithsonian, Harvard University, Pratt Institute, the Dada Gallery, Athens Greece, and many public and private galleries. His art is owned by over 600 private collections nationwide including the Morton D. May Collection, MO, Lucia May Collection, MN, and the St. Louis University Museum of Fine Arts, St. Louis MO. In 1958 he received the “Borsa di Studio” — offered by the Italian Government for study in Italy.
His poetry has appeared in numerous respected literary journals such as Negative Capability, Rhino, and Pudding Magazine: The International Journal of Applied Poetry (featured).
All Rights Reserved, The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Art Trust.
From the St. Louis Modern catalogue- St. Louis’s Modern Murals
October 1, 2015
St. Louis Modern is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring a comprehensive essays on architecture and design in St. Louis that expand on themes explored in the exhibition, including in-depth examinations of the city’s embrace of modern aesthetics in sculpture, silver, stained glass, murals, and textiles.
In the excerpt below, exhibition co-curator Genevieve Cortinovis explores the history of modern mural painting in St. Louis.
In a 1932 exhibition featuring the work of forty-nine American muralists exploring “post-war subjects,” The Museum of Modern Art asked an essential question: “Who is to do the murals of the nation’s great buildings?”(1) In the years that followed, modern artists answered the call, actively utilizing a medium that had been previously dominated by academic painters. Whether in cafés and corporate lobbies or post offices and medical clinics, murals imbued modern, often austere architectural settings with color, dynamism, and a sense of historic and aesthetic continuity, while exposing the larger public to a variety of contemporary styles and ideas. Spurred by the fervent support of the medium by the Depression-era Federal Arts Project as well as at the World’s Fairs in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York in the 1930s, the vogue for mural painting reached its peak in St. Louis in the decades surrounding World War II. The founding myths, idyllic local landscapes, and heroic figures that dominated murals at the turn of the century—such as Frederick Lincoln Stoddard’s panels celebrating the Louisiana Purchase for the mayor’s office (1898), Frederick Oakes Sylvester’s idealized vista of the Mississippi River and bluffs for the Noonday Club (1911), and Edmund Wuerpel’s summer landscape for the Missouri Athletic Club (1916)—were largely supplanted by themes of industry, modernity, play, and progress.
In a 1977 oral history, Charles Eames lauded the design of the coffee shop and restaurant at the Park Plaza Hotel (1929), calling one of its designers, St. Louis–born Victor Proetz, “a bona fide genius.”(2) Proetz’s distinctive modern classicism was particularly evident in a series of murals depicting the “glorious history of beer as it was made in Nuremberg” that he and his partner, Ralph Cole Hall, executed for the space.(3) The murals reference specific iconographic sources, including woodcuts from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle by Hartmann Schedel, as well as nineteenth-century classicism, particularly the line-drawn figure of the angel Gabriel breathing life into the hop vine.(4) Among the medieval German architecture with geometrically patterned roofs, Proetz inserted contemporary St. Louis monuments: the Budweiser Brewery, Shell Building, and the Park Plaza itself appear alongside bird’s-eye views of walled and moated cities in an image characteristic of Proetz’s hybrid aesthetic.
In 1939, under the Works Progress Administration, Chicagoans Edward Millman and Mitchell Siporin won a commission to execute a series of frescoes for St. Louis’s main post office downtown.(5) The project called for work that would depict the history of the region from its colonial origins to Civil War reconstruction, and it boasted the largest prize of any of the mural commissions overseen by the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. The nine panels Millman and Siporin produced are dominated by large, robustly modeled figures in abstracted landscapes, the river winding through each scene’s background acting “like a ribbon binding them together.”(6) Both artists had spent time in Mexico studying the work of muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco in the 1930s, and were unique for their unusual approach to historic narrative, which often investigated controversial subject matter such as social conflict and the treatment of minorities.(7) In the St. Louis Post Office murals, for example, they included scenes depicting the Missouri Compromise and the infamous Dred Scott case.
Around the same time, St. Louis–based medical supplies purveyor A. S. Aloe, under the leadership of Howard Baer, sheathed its company’s nineteenth-century headquarters on Olive Street in downtown St. Louis with a streamlined modern facade, adding ten thousand square feet of space and creating a new entrance and identity for the evolving company.(8) Visitors entering the large oval lobby were greeted by a dramatic curved staircase lined with murals depicting the early history of medicine. The unknown artist presents Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, surrounded by signs of the zodiac. As the murals wound further up the wall, the evolution of surgery from the medieval period to present day was contrasted in two very different surgical theaters surmounted by monochromatic portraits of historic leaders in the medical field. With their rigidly modeled figures and references to Greek mythology, the murals call to mind the classicizing preference of many designers and architects active in St. Louis in the late 1930, such as Proetz and Frederick Dunn.(9)
Not long after they were unveiled, the murals were photographed by Morton D. May, celebrated patron of the arts and president of the Famous-Barr department stores. May was an active amateur photographer throughout his life whose ample resources allowed him to elevate his work to a professional level, as these remarkable photographs attest.(10) May employed carbro printing, a time-consuming and expensive color-printing technique that required the use of a specialized studio, to produce many of his color photographs of the period, including his prints of the A. S. Aloe murals. The technique, which results in a permanent color image, was favored by magazines and elite photographers, and May’s choice of it proved prescient, providing an enduring record of these murals that were themselves demolished in 1996.(11)
Prominent footwear maker Brown Shoe Company hired local artist Fred Conway to paint a floor-to-ceiling mural for the lobby of its new suburban headquarters in 1952. The seventy-five- foot-long mural on canvas depicts the history of shoemaking and the use of leather from Ancient Egypt to the industrial period.(14) As the mural extends up the wall, the figures, heavily modeled at the base, become progressively softer and more abstract, and the colors more muted and pastel. The unusual palette—ranging from bright red and cornflower yellow to turquoise, periwinkle, and subtle shades of white—and inventive use of pattern to link subjects give the figurative mural a distinctly fresh and modern character. Conway was a faculty member at Washington University’s school of art from 1929 to 1970, and a close friend and early supporter of German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann. Throughout his long career, he experimented with a range of styles, from realism to pure abstraction. A nationally recognized muralist, Conway is responsible for the murals in the former headquarters of Peabody Energy in St. Louis, which depict the history of the coal industry in the region, as well as those of the Federal Building in Kansas City, the First National Bank of Tulsa, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the U.S Post Office in Purcell, Oklahoma.(15)In the years after World War II, several St. Louis companies would follow the lead of Baer and A. S. Aloe by expanding or rebuilding their offices and storefronts, and many would choose murals to illustrate the history of their particular industry in order to enliven the spaces and establish their unique position at the forefront of innovation in their respective fields. When May commissioned Samuel Marx to design the Clayton branch of Famous-Barr in 1948, the architect engaged fellow Chicagoan Edgar Miller to paint a series of whimsical murals in the interior. Improvising on the theme of each department, the artist illustrated the various historical influences on men’s fashion from early European to frontier culture in the men’s department, for example, and he irreverently sprinkled the walls of the maternity department with birds and bees. One reviewer called the murals “captivating,” praising the “noted” artist’s creativity and sense of humor.(12) Miller was a prominent Chicago designer, painter, and sculptor known for his quirky, handcrafted interiors.(13) He frequently collaborated with Marx, creating murals for many of his public commissions (Miller probably painted similarly themed murals in Famous-Barr’s Northland store) and contributing artwork for a series of plaster lamps that Marx used in many of his private commissions.
- “American Mural Exhibition to Open New Home of Museum of Modern Art,” MoMA press release, April 23, 1932, https://www.moma.org/learn/resources/press_ archives/1930s/1932.
- Charles Eames, interview with Virginia Stith, October 13, 1977, Charles Eames Oral History Project, pp. 27–28, Eames Office LLC archive, Venice, California.
- “The Story on the Wall,” promotional pamphlet (St. Louis: Park Plaza Hotel, c. 1930).
- Active throughout the 1930s, Millman and Siporin had previously been awarded several prestigious mural commissions, including a series for Chicago’s “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in 1933 and the post offices in the Illinois towns of Moline and Decatur in 1935.
- Paintings, cartoons, photographs of the St. Louis Post Office murals by Mitchell Siporin and Edward Millman. (New York: Downtown Gallery, 1942), n.p.
- Marlene Park and Gerald E. Markowitz, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 39-40. Other WPA murals exploring local historic themes in St. Louis include Louisiana Purchase Exposition by Trew Hocker in the post office in University City and the Old Levee and Market at St. Louis by Lumen Martin Winter at the Wellston Station Post Office.
- An active art patron, Baer was keenly aware of the potential of modernism in design and marketing. To commemorate the somewhat precariously timed construction, Baer buried a time capsule under the cornerstone of his company’s new modern headquarters, in which he enclosed a letter where he confessed that despite the period of uncertainty, “the mere fact that we build here and now a new building when aerial bombs are laying waste London and Berlin . . . indicates that the human spirit is incurably optimistic.” Baer, “Letter for a Cornerstone,” September 1940, A. S. Aloe Time Capsule, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.
- One year prior, the history of medicine was depicted in a series of both abstract and figurative murals for the Hall of Medicine and Public Health at the New York World’s Fair, which Baer very well could have seen.
- May became interested in photography during the mid- 1930s as he traveled across Europe and Asia with noted photographer Julian Bryan while still a student at Dartmouth. In the 1940s, he began experimenting with color photography and shifted his focus from travel to still life, portraiture, and architecture. “Man of the Year,” Globe-Democrat Sunday Magazine, December 27, 1959: 12.
- For more information on the history and process of carbro printing, see John Rohrbach, Color: American Photography Transformed (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).
- “Noted Muralist’s Store Decorating Is Captivating,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, November 14, 1949.
- For more on Edgar Miller, see Richard Cahan, Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home: Chicago’s Forgotten Renaissance Man (Chicago: City Files Press, 2009).
- “The Romance of Shoemaking,” promotional pamphlet (St. Louis: Brown Shoe Company, c. 1955).
- The former Peabody headquarters was acquired by engineering firm ICC in 2013. As the Post-Dispatch noted, “ICC also will preserve a colorful mural by St. Louis artist Fred Conway. The large mural inside the first-floor lobby depicts coal mining, shipping and conversion to electricity.” Tim Bryant, “Former Peabody Building Gets New Owner, Life,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 1, 2013.
Recent article on Boccia and his links to modernist mid century artistic practice and critical reception.“Cezanne’s Apple and Edward E. Boccia Hierarchy, Revolt and Artistic Innovation in 20th-Century America.” by Rosa JH Berland, Ekphrasis (2067-631X) . 2015, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p118-141. 24p
The reconstruction of the twenty-first-century imagination (ideologies that shape our “imagined world”) and aesthetic view through the “authentic” modes of abstraction, conceptualism, and the lens of media and digital technology has led to a new way of understanding and experiencing creativity. While these are certainly new or original critical experiences, there are other types of creativity, ideologies and imaginary worlds that are quite separate, and sometimes polemically opposed to this genre of making and looking. An example of this type of creative visualization and boycotting of the supposedly authentic gesture is the work of the late American artist Edward E. Boccia, who devoted much of his life to a series of panel paintings that take as their subject problems of politics and society, as well as religious experience in the twentieth century. Made between 1956 -2006, the large scale altarpieces represent the phenomenon of figural creativity produced in traditional studio mediums in mid- to late twentieth-century America.
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