Art for the People premiers early at the MAG. Five year labor of love comes to fruition for curator Jessica Marten

Art for the People premiers early at the MAG. Five year labor of love comes to fruition for curator Jessica Marten

Alanna Flowers and Andy Flowers

First on the scene, I was delighted to be invited to the soft premier Thursday night of Art for the People: Carl W. Peters and the Rochester WPA Murals at the Memorial Art Gallery, opened early to coincide with the University of Rochester’s Meliora Weekend. The exhibition highlights a group of recently restored mural studies by Rochester artist Carl W. Peters for 13 extant WPA murals, most of which were done for the Rochester City School District.

Art for the People: Carl W. Peters and the Rochester WPA Murals

Having first discovered some of Peters’ WPA at Charlotte High School — so nobly saved by Charles Avino — I was treated to them all. Charlotte High’s unparalleled and almost lost murals

Roaming the three rooms filled with Peters’ work, along with other WPA related artifacts, I found myself awash in Peters’ panoramic vision and vistas, everywhere his characteristic florid, soft pastel tones ideally suited for the WPA motif: uplifting common American figures drawn together as bulwarks against the Depression outside the canvasses.  And at every turn his imagined history of the Genesee River Valley region turned into illuminating pictorial myth.IMG_0763

To learn more about what I was seeing, I turned to Jessica Marten, MAG’s Curator in Charge/Curator of American Art.

As Jessica explained, she and many, many others labored for five years to bring the project to fruition.  As Jessica gave her first tour at the premier, I sensed a mixture of relief, buoyancy and satisfaction, both personal and aesthetic.

The exhibit includes the group of preparatory mural studies, reproductions of the murals, a few landscape paintings by Carl W. Peters, archival materials that flesh out the WPA in Rochester, and a group of 13 WPA posters made in Rochester on loan from the Library of Congress

The seed for this exhibition was planted in April of 2009 when the Miller Family contacted MAG about a group of studies for WPA murals in Rochester by Carl W. Peters. (there is more information on this in the “Introduction” to the catalogue) Over the last six years, the museum was awarded grants to conserve the studies and embarked on extensive research into the Rochester WPA that delved into the many archives around Rochester, as well as the Library of Congress in D.C. and the National Archives in Maryland. Each opportunity for research and discovery had its highs and lows. Finding the photographs of Carl Peters and his assistants actually painting the murals – and in one case an assistant using one of the studies to help paint her the murals – was one of the exhilarating wins.

People should come to see the exhibition because this is your chance to see these incredible studies – charcoal, pastel, watercolor, graphite. They are absolutely beautiful drawings as well as truly fascinating and illuminating windows onto Peters’ artistic process. Through them we get to see Peters make decisions and change his mind about the subject matter, color, light, composition, etc. Not only are they lovely to look at and enlightening to see as a group, but they provide us with an view of life in our city in the 1930s. This is a Rochester story, but it is also an American story.

But don’t take my words or Jessica’s. Come yourself. Art for the People — that’s you!IMG_0764

More on the Memorial Art Gallery

An art museum as a place of meaning in a time of senselessness

Thoughts on why the Carousel panel belongs in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

Emotions recollected in tranquility on University Ave

And At the Brighton Town Hall 1957 mural with Sandra Frankel


About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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