Wisconsin Centennial Murals
Nine stunning murals of historical and artistic merit, each 12’ x 27’, were acquired from State Fair Park by Kohler Foundation. The murals had been used as a background to the mammoth 1948 Wisconsin Centennial Exposition at State Fair showing a century of progress in Wisconsin agriculture. Three of the original twelve murals no longer remain, but nine are now preserved-- but not before being stored, unaccounted for, under the old bleachers at State Fair Park for nearly 60 years. With changes in staff and endless items stored in every nook and cranny of every building, the nine murals were forgotten. The murals came to the Foundation in poor condition but with the expert conservation treatment of Parma Conservation in Chicago during most of 2010, they have been returned to their original beauty.
The murals were painted by Robert O. Hodgell, once a student of John Steuart Curry, later an art professor at UW. He was assisted by several artists, some of whom were his students.
The nine murals were treated, rolled and packed in archival tubes. Removable stretchers allow the art to be stored, rolled and exhibited as stretched canvases. The Wisconsin Historical Society was pleased to accept the collection of nine historical murals into their permanent collection. Wisconsin Historical Museum Curator Joe Kapler tells the whole story behind the creation of the murals, their rediscovery and their conservation in 'Preserving the Big Picture for Wisconsin: The 1948 Centennial Fair Murals' in the Autumn 2011 issue of the "Wisconsin Magazine of History."
In addition, fourteen of Robert O. Hodgell's original mural studies, which preceeded the Centennial Murals, were acquired and gifted to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 2011. Twelve of the studies were executed and used at the State Fair; two were never painted. Additional information about the murals, including a Virtual Exhibition of all nine recovered works, is available on the Wisconsin Historical Society's website.
In 2013, two of the murals are being displayed again at State Fair Park. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society: "For the first time in more than 60 years, visitors to the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis can stand in front of massive murals depicting farm life in Wisconsin. Spanning 60 feet wide and 12 feet high, two vivid murals from the 1948 Centennial Exposition (State Fair) have recently been conserved and are now on display as the centerpiece to the State Fair History Museum display in the Exposition Center. The featured murals depict an idyllic Wisconsin farmhouse and farmstead set in 1948."