Graziani's murals: History books in paint
Just to let you know, today and tomorrow mark the end of summer hours. I will be open from 12-4:30 today (Thursday) and 8:30 to 12 on Friday. Starting Tuesday, we will be on Winter hours. And we will be closed Labor day. The following hours will hold until next summer. But of course there are a few vacations in there so be sure to call ahead, especially if you are traveling a distance. I will repost the hours on Tuesday so that they stand out and do not get lost in this posting.Monday
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I best get on with the topic of historical influences in Graziani's mural series because I keep on staring at a photograph of the famous (infamous?) Frog Circus (yes-it was a circus made from real stuffed frogs) and I find myself wandering back to the 1920s when Holyoke Public Library had a Natural History Museum and this ghoulish piece of taxidermic wonderment was a main attraction. But let us go back down the grand staircase and leave the collections on the second floor of the Library for another day. (Perhaps I should keep that topic for Halloween- although I like the idea of giving a top-to-bottom view of the building, discussing the many interesting points that can be found there before moving on to another topic.(Unless of course another topic occurs to you all.)
No, today's topic is the historic elements of Graziani's murals. As Graziani stated, his style could be described as allegorical realism. This means that while he drew upon the real world to inform his murals, these figures are also archetypical forms that could be taken as universal figures that would fit in any society. However, a good portion of his mural series depicts specific moments drawn from Holyoke's timeline.
If you don't mind, I will take more time discussing the eastern wall's murals as this series of panels is rife with familiar faces. I will also touch upon the first two smaller panels depicting religion and child welfare that can be found on the wall to the right of this treasure trove of Holyoke history. Suffice it to say that the western wall, depicting Holyoke's early history, provides the viewer with views of Native American life that were informed by careful study of Algonquin society. I believe that the same amount of care research went into Graziani's research for the end-panels depicting Captain Rowland Thomas and Captain Elizur Holyoke, founders of Mt. Tom and Mount Holyoke respectively. However, as portraits of these adventurous men no longer exist, Graziani had to create figures that were representative of the 18th century.
Moving to the next wall, found underneath the second floor mezzanine, the viewer will see a group of smaller panels depicting tiny snippits of Holyoke life described by allegorical and historical figures. These are much more allegorical, however pieces of Holyoke's history do find their way into the murals, and I intend to touch upon these elements in this essay rather than entangle the symbology as that would be another essay entirely. (If you are at all interested in this I can take you through them on a more detailed level later on.)
The first of these is one depicting the three major religions practiced in Holyoke: Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. While these figures are allegorical archetypes of the leading figures of each religion the buildings depicted in the background are real buildings. On his trips to Holyoke, Graziani painted the portraits of St. Jerome's church, found on the left and the first Baptist Church in the center. (As the images don't seem to fit into this posting I am going to put them in another posting. I will also include pictures of their real-world cognates whenever possible. The mural photos will be only be included as snippets of the full images so that I might induce you all to go view the whole recommend.) I do plan on discussing the topic of religion in Holyoke in another posting as it has in many ways shaped this city, however as this posting is about Sante Graziani's keen eye I must move on to the next panel of this mural.)
The next mural depicting Child Welfare in Holyoke includes the figure of Sister Mary of Providence, a great advocate for the rights of Holyoke's children. Upon arriving in Holyoke from Quebec in 1875, she immediately determined that too many orphaned children were going ignored. She thus turned to Dr. John O'Connell, who would later become mayor of Holyoke. Her concerns caused the institution of Brightside and Mt. St. Vincent to be designed. The woman standing beside her holding the infant mortality chart is a employee of Brightside.
The other two murals depicting education and sports do not have historical figures or buildings depicted in them but rather are more allegorical in nature.
However, the eastern wall's mural is filled with many familiar faces.
Let's start with the central panel, which depicts Holyoke's water power and industry. The portrait of George Ewing can be found in the central position of the mural. He was given pride of place to acknowledge the fact that he convinced farmers to give up their land so that Holyoke could be built. Because of his efforts Holyoke became the city it is today. At his elbow is Joseph C. Parsons, Holyoke's first papermaker.
In addition to these historical figures, Graziani also included other important historical elements that prove that he was an eagle-eyed artist who took care to represent Holyoke's history in paint. These include the plan of Holyoke's canal system, a portrait of the Holyoke Dam and copy of the Hampden Freeman . The portrait of the Holyoke Dam is especially interesting as it captures a moment in time. For in 1952, the stone abutment depicted in Graziani's portrait was replaced by the headworks of the power plant.
The left panel, depicting Holyoke's cultural aspects, includes a portrait of Professor William Churchill Hammond, organist for the Second Congregational Church in Holyoke, at his organ. We can also see a portrait of Holyoke Public Library in the background!
So that concludes my discussion on Sante Graziani's great attention to detail. He truly took time to get to know our city. I am sorry that I have been unable to include images in this postings, but I will put them into the next posting.
I bid you ado.
Next time: The Frog Circus and the Natural History Museum at Holyoke Public Library: Captivating captives capture Holyoke's youth.