Hi there history buffs,
Yes I have been promising an article on the Library's mural series for a while now, and I think my mind has wandered back on track, so lets take a trip back in time to Holyoke Public Library in the 1940s before I find another interesting topic to talk about. As this is a fascinating topic filled with so many facets I think I will split this discussion into two parts: a discussion of the actual painting of the murals and a discussion of the historic elements found within the murals. This will also give me some time to visit the murals again so that I can better comment on them. Pictures and articles are all very well and good but nothing can replace being in the presence of the real piece of work. I will also have to wait to put in the phtographs for this blog as the security on this computer is not allowing me to post them. Which is certainly annoying.
The Painting of Holyoke Public Library's Murals
Before 1948, the Lobby of the Holyoke Public Library was painted terracotta. I imagine the original thought was that this color went well with the stark white column, and that it provided a blank canvas to bring out the intricate carving of the woodwork, but I personally think that it made the lobby look empty. Edward P. Bagg, President of the Holyoke Public Library and Skinner Fund Trustee said that it was a "drab cavern lined with terracotta red." If you look at this picture taken before 1948, you can almost see that the murals were always meant to be there. Joseph Clough's original plan divided the east wall of the lobby into three distinct panels, almost as if this master architect had forseeen the advent of Graziani's murals. The columns frame the murals beautifully.
Sante Graziani's murals were made possible by the Joseph Allen Skinner Art Fund, a fund established to provide Holyoke Public Library with works of art. Grazini, fresh from finishing a mural series at the Springfield Museum of Art, was deemed capable of completing such a commission. Born in Cleveland, Graziani first gained national recognition after painting the lobby of the post office in Bluffton, Ohio at the young age of 22. At the time of Holyoke Public Library's commission he was on the faculty of the Yale Art Department. He later served as the Dean of the School of the Worcester Art Musum and on the faculty of Paier College in Connecticut. After a full life, filled with beautiful paintings, fast cars, and classical music, Sante Graziani died March 21, 2005. Yet his mural series lives on.
Sante Graziani's artistic style was influenced by such Italian Renaissance painters as Boticelli and Piero della Francesca. He described his style as "allegorical although realistic and representational." However, unlike their frescos, which were painted directly on walls or into sections of wet plaster, Graziani's mural series was painted on huge panels of belgian canvas at his studio, stretched on wooden stretchers and then installed. As one can imagine, it was extremely difficult to plan a series of murals for a space hundreds of miles away. The fact that the murals look as though Joseph Clough put them into his highly detailed plan is a testiment to Graziani's wonderful ability to visualize space and plan accordingly. This was especially important in the case of the east wall where the pillasters break the space into three distinct spaces.
Graziani worked on the murals from 1948 to 1953. First creating large cartoons, or line drawings, Graziani then painted the murals using casian paint, ideal for creating the illusion of frescos as its mat-like finish gives the flat feel of true frescos.
Graziani truly loved his work. Upon returning to the Holyoke Public Library in December of 2000 to attend a ceremony honoring the installation of the lights that illuminate the murals Graziani greeted them, saying "Hello old friends." As you will see from my next posting, he really did come to know Holyoke and captured her beautifully. We are all the better for Graziani's murals. Next time you visit the Holyoke Public Library be sure to take some time looking at them. They really are spectacular.