Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Historic Murals in the Pelham Memorial High School Library

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A group of education-minded art lovers and public spirited citizens led by Rosemary Hays of Stellar Ave, Debbie Cestone, head librarian of the Pelham Memorial High School Library, and Lisa Robb, director of the Pelham Art Center, are engaged in a major project to restore two murals in the Pelham Memorial High School Library. Ms. Hays has researched the history of the murals and provided that research to me. The story is a fascinating one.

The North Mural in PMHS Library is on the Far Wall. Mural to the Left Is Now Lost.
Photograph Taken December 18, 1948. Library of Congress American Memory Collection.

At the height of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration implemented the Public Works of Art Project as one of the programs of the Works Progress Administration. Thus, many of the murals created at about that time are referenced as "WPA murals". Before the WPA was created, however, public-spirited Pelhamites raised a substantial amount of money to fund the materials necessary to allow local artists to create murals in schools throughout Pelham as part of a different "emergency" federal program. While the money was being raised, implementation of the emergency project was scaled back. Pelham had to settle for a single set of murals and decided to have them placed in the Library of the Pelham Memorial High School.

Pelham resident Leo H. Junker, a noted local artist, was selected to execute the murals. He was assisted by other local artists including C. J. Munro, Henry E. Dey, Salvatore Pietro, Joseph Farrelly and William Thompson.

Junker created a mural that he entitled "History and Achievements of Ancient and Modern World" consisting of two canvases hung at opposite ends of the Library (north and south walls). An article published in The Westchester Historian in 1998 described the murals as follows:

"Another mural which illustrates advancement and change in American society is painted by Leo Junker. The mural, 'History and Achivements of Ancient and Modern World,' is done in two sections which hang at opposite ends of the Pelham High School Library. Junker was born in 1882 in Chicago, Illinois. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Junker was living in Pelham when he was awarded the contract to paint two murals for the school library.

At one end of the room Junker shows the influence that the accumulation of knowledge from Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations has had on the development of human thought and potential. At the other end of the room is a mural that illustrates the development of this country from the early frontier to the modern age, the Twentieth Century. The panel begins with a picture of the Wild West and moves into the Industrial Age of machinery and automation into a picture of Urban America. These murals capture the development of man from his quest for knowledge and understanding of the universe to his metamorphosis from an agrarian society into an urban one. Junker's mural was meant to instruct students about the importance of knowledge in the development of Western thought."

Source: Benedict, Margaret, Rooted in History: WPA Murals in Westchester County, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 74, No. 3, p. 52, 56 (Summer 1998).

The murals have not been restored during the last seventy years. Restoration of the canvases is a monumental project. The high school community has raised $34,500 to restore the murals, but a $17,500 shortfall remains. Those responsible for the project are reaching out to all Pelham residents for help. If you would like to help, please contact the author of this blog at b_bell@stblaw.com who will forward your information to the appropriate persons.

Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site
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At 10:39 PM, Blogger elise said...

As I recall, there also used to be a WPA mural in the Pelham Post Office. Do you know if this mural still exists or was it destroyed when they "modernized" the interior?


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