Santa Monica’s Public Library launched a website last month that focuses solely on the Stanton Macdonald-Wright Mural which is displayed on the Main Library’s second floor.
Macdonald-Wright, who was raised in Santa Monica, painted the 2,000 square foot mural on 38 plywood panels between 1934 and 1935 as one of the New Deal art projects commissioned in Southern California. The mural, which depicts the history of humankind from prehistoric times through the development of the movie industry, was originally created for the main reading room of the Santa Monica Main Library at Fifth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
According to the website “the mural’s twin narratives celebrate artistic and scientific achievements.” The site also mentions that Macdonald-Wright told then Santa Monica Mayor William H. Carter and other city administrators that it was his intention “to create a work that will have a meaning for people from every country of the globe.” The mural includes more than 160 historical and mythological figures.
The mural begins its arts narrative, according to the website “with Asian philosophers and famous ancient myths, moving through 18th and 19th century German music to contemporary musicians and ending with the American poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).” He traced scientific and technical achievements from ancient Greece through the Renaissance to the modern utilization of electricity and other energy sources, culminating with the figure of Lee H. Forest (1873-1961), a pioneer in sound, radio, and the motion picture industry.
The mural remained on display in the main reading room until 1965 and then it was transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. where it remained pretty much in storage for the next 40 years. In 2005 the City of Santa Monica received a matching grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment to fund the conservation and installation of the mural for the new Main Library located at 601 Santa Monica Boulevard.
Macdonald-Wright’s mural’s current installation contains groupings of the panels throughout the Main Library’s second floor where a lot of attention was paid to continued mural preservation. Therefore, many of the panels are hung high on the walls and where the panels are hung lower, protective glass shields have been installed. Environmental monitoring is also being done.
The website includes the history of the mural as well as a facsimile of the catalogue where Mcdonald-Wright described the mural’s creation and narrative themes. The site also features a tool that allows a website visitor to zoom in on all the intricate details of the mural. Also part of the site is information about the mural’s original and current installation, a discussion of how the mural was preserved, other relevant resources, and a place where one can share memories about the mural.
Visit the Stanton Macdonald-Wright Library Mural website at smpl.org/mural