Modern Education/School Activities

Frank Tolles Chamberlin, 1934-1942

Assisted by Ben Messick. Former McKinley Junior High School, 325 South Oak Knoll Ave, Pasadena. Oil on canvas

This text (composed by Chamberlin) comes from a brochure entitled "The Library Mural, McKinley Junior High School, Pasadena, CA, 1942." The brochure itself is located in the Architecture and Fine Arts Library, USC.

The Mural Composition The following brief account of the mural panting is the library of the McKinley Junior High School is written by Mr. F. Tolles Chamberlin, the artist who has composed and painted this masterly work of art.

The mural was initiated by the Treasury Department of the United State with the collaboration of the Board of Education and a committee of which Miss Fannie Kerns was chairman, and the class of 1934.

When it was decided to have the painting on the west wall of the library, the subject matter and treatment were naturally the first thing to be determined. After observing the classes in various departments it was decided to make the composition expressive of the activities, spirit, and ideas of the Mckinley Junior High School, and let the subject matter grow from the suggestions of the individual students.

The idea of engaging the interest and cooperation of the students in the project, was proposed to the committee and Mr. Bigham, which was the principal at the time the mural was begun. The idea was approved and every student was given a chance to write his or her preference regarding subject matter.

A hearty response and interest in the project was evidenced by the great number and range of suggestions sent in. The most popular of these included literature, physics, mechanical science, water power and conservation, wild life, history of education, agriculture, art, and music.

Any one of these subjects by itself would have been splendid material for a mural painting, but it was decided to take several of the more popular subjects and combine them in one composition with a typical California landscape background.

The problem of expressing these many activities in one composition was formidable, and at the same time interesting, because it was felt that in doing this, the spirit of the school and something of the trend in modern education could be suggested. Gifted students are active partners in the education process, and such students recognize the unlimited opportunity and incentive for creative thinking in fields of science, engineering, and humanities.

Youth is eager to learn by dong and—through directed study of the inherited knowledge stored in books—to use this knowledge in solving new problems. As we live in an age demanding technical skill in many fields, it was my desire to express youth as mastering the mechanical and scientific problems involved. Projects in the fields of agriculture, construction of dams, bridges, hydroelectric power, and shipbuilding, suggested in the background, call for research and training.

The line in the lower border of the painting is from "Song of Youth," a poem by Anne Trumbull. It reads "All heritage of the past is mine, to be moulded by my spirit into forms new and fair." This line was chosen because it tersely suggested the dignity and potential powers of youth whether absorbed in work or play.

To paint a composition on the theme of youth and its activities at a time when freedom and civilization were threatened by destructive forces, was both inspiring and disconcerting. But with the full consciousness of a war-torn world, the main idea of the mural seemed intensified—the painting of a group of boys and girls who, are best able to understand their inherited freedom, and to defend it from all enemies.

These were some of the ideas from which the mural painting was evolved and it is hoped that it may be regarded not as having didactic significance, but rather as a representation of a group of future citizens of the type who can and will preserve their freedom and the best in civilization.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the sympathetic cooperation accorded by the Treasury Department of the United States and its officials; the Southern California Art Project; the Board of Education; Miss Kearns and her committee; Mr. Bigham; Mr. Walkup; and the many students of the graduating classes; and the student body of McKinley Junior High School.


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