During the 1930’s Depression, the federal Works Projects Administration Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) commissioned two realistic murals depicting Larchmont scenes painted by the accomplished New York landscape artist, Thomas H. Donnelly (1893-1971). The murals have been beautifully restored and re-hung in the Larchmont Public Library where they had been shown for nearly 73 years. The murals, which originally were unveiled in 1939, depict the Larchmont Manor House and Larchmont Yacht Club of that era.
According to Jill Sarkozi of the Larchmont Historical Society, the WPA also paid for building a post office in Larchmont, painting the library, sidewalks, Flint Park’s roadway, and a ball field. “The idea for the program came from George Biddle,” she explained.
Biddle was an artist, lawyer, and Harvard classmate of President Roosevelt. Biddle wrote to Roosevelt, advocating “social art” and championing the Mexican Government’s mural program, which employed great artists to paint public murals expressing the ideas of the Mexican revolution. Biddle had toured Mexico on a sketching trip with Mexican artist Diego Rivera one of whose murals was famously commissioned for Rockefeller Center and then taken down and destroyed by the Rockefeller Family.
Ultimately, Roosevelt’s Federal Art Project y employed thousands of artists, like Donnelly, and produced several hundred thousand pieces of public art in locations across the country. Almost every community was touched by the program in some way.
Larchmont’s WPA murals are part of this historic project and Donnelly’s two works, proudly restored, can now be fully appreciated. Other murals by Donnelly include “End of Winter,” which was hung in the White House and is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection. His “Winter Landscape,” now hangs in the library at Dartmouth College. He also painted murals for the post office in Mt. Kisco, NY.
His paintings have been exhibited widely including at the Corcoran Gallery, the Carnegie Institution, the Berkshire Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Larchmont Library encourages local artists to exhibit their works in the Oresman Gallery. An exhibitor application is available online.
Photos courtesy Professor Sheila D. Collins, The Living New Deal, and the Larchmont Public Library.
© Creative Commons