Henry Varnum Poor: Studies for the Land Grant Frescoes

Title

Henry Varnum Poor: Studies for the Land Grant Frescoes

Date

February 15 – June 5, 2005

Description

In 1938, armed with funds supplied by the Class of 1932, Penn State professors Harold E. Dickson, Francis E. Hyslop, and J. Burn Helme approached distinguished muralist Henry Varnum Poor with the idea of decorating the north wall over Old Main’s grand staircase. The theme: celebrating Penn State’s founding as a Land Grant institution under the Morrill Act of 1862. Poor accepted the commission, signed a contract in September of 1939, and then spent nearly eight months developing numerous and detailed studies for the mural. By the following spring, he was ready to paint. Assisted by his daughter, the artist Anne Poor, who did most of the plastering, he executed his plan in true fresco style over the course of approximately seven weeks, between April 26 and June 18, 1940.

Additional funds were soon secured from the Classes of 1942, 1943, and 1944 to extend the design to the east and west walls of the balcony level in Old Main’s lobby. World War II intervened, however, and the money was put into government bonds. Following the war, students at the University renewed their interest in the frescoes and raised the necessary amount to bring Poor back to campus. In March of 1948, with the artist Willard W. Cummings acting as plasterer, Poor returned to work on the east balcony wall. The west wall was begun in November of that same year, and a third visit by the artist, made during the spring of 1949, brought both sites to completion. In the last two sessions Poor was joined once again by Anne, who this time was assisted in her plastering by then student (and later Penn State professor) Stuart Frost.

Held in tandem with Penn State’s sesquicentennial celebration, this exhibition features a number of preparatory studies for what have come to be known as the Land Grant Frescoes. Chief among these are several drawings of Abraham Lincoln, signer of the Morrill Act whom Poor featured as the central figure in the north mural. Also included are sketches of various Pennsylvania locales, made by the artist as he traveled throughout the state, which found their way into the mural, as well as several cartoons—full-size renderings developed as an aid in transferring the design to the wall. Additional paintings, drawings, and watercolors by Poor, selected from the museum’s permanent collection, round out the exhibition.

Contributor

Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University

Rights

These images are posted publicly for non-profit educational uses, excluding printed publication. Other uses are not permitted.

Items in the Henry Varnum Poor: Studies for the Land Grant Frescoes
Collection

Study for the Land Grant Frescoes
Henry Varnum Poor set to work on the Land Grant Frescoes immediately after signing the contract, in September 1939. This drawing, annotated for content and with the right portion of the mural yet to be realized, is one of the artist’s first, a…

Study for the Land Grant Frescoes
After meeting with the Trustees to discuss his initial design in November 1939, Poor incorporated several of the board’s recommendations into this larger and more fully developed study. President Ralph D. Hetzel, noting that Penn State had grown…

Head of Abraham Lincoln
Poor executed several larger-than-life sized studies for the figure of Abraham Lincoln, for reasons that exceeded the president’s physical prominence in the fresco. In the statement that accompanied his presentation to the Board of Trustees, the…

Head of Abraham Lincoln
This drawing, squared for transfer and nearly identical to the likeness of Lincoln that appears in the mural, is likely the sketch incorporated into the thirteen-foot study of the president, too large to be shown here, which Poor used as a guide in…

Farm Scene, Lancaster County
Poor dedicated nearly eight months to preparatory work, between September 1939 and April 1940, before beginning the actual painting of the north wall in Old Main. Much of that time was spent traveling throughout Pennsylvania, making numerous sketches…

Students Working in a Forge
“To the right and back of Lincoln,” Poor wrote about the mural segment for which this painting is a study (and before he moved it to accommodate the scene involving President Pugh), “are students working in a shop or forge, over wooden…

Landscape with Farm
Not all of the studies made by Poor in the months that led up to his painting of the north wall were translated directly into the fresco. This drawing, quite possibly a view of a farm in Lancaster County, nonetheless captures the spirit, if not the…

Elevation sketches for the Land Grant Frescoes
The contract engaging Henry Varnum Poor to paint the east and west walls of the mezzanine floor in Old Main’s lobby was drawn up in May 1947. As with the north wall, a significant amount of time was necessary for preparatory work—in this…

Sketch for the East Wall of the Land Grant Frescoes
These drawings accompanied a detailed written presentation of Poor’s ideas for the east and west walls that the artist forwarded to Penn State in November 1947. “Please express what you feel,” he wrote in the presentation, inviting frank…

Sketch for the West Wall of the Land Grant Frescoes
These drawings accompanied a detailed written presentation of Poor’s ideas for the east and west walls that the artist forwarded to Penn State in November 1947. “Please express what you feel,” he wrote in the presentation, inviting frank…