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Public Library Murals


Park Avenue and Commercial Street

Edgar Britton, a student of Grant Wood, painted the library’s two murals, “Exposition” and “Holiday,” during the summer of 1940. His murals are an excellent example of the Midwestern style of art popular during the 1930's. (To see beautiful murals of a totally different style, visit Seerley Hall on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa.)

At that time, the building was Waterloo's recently completed post office. Britton painted the frescoes in three months under a U.S. Treasury Department program. More than 50 such murals were produced in Iowa under this program during the years just before World War II.

The murals were not immediately popular with the people of Waterloo. The figures in overalls in "Exposition" did not seem to resemble the college-educated Iowans who were even then, taking over farm management. It was also felt that the art did not adequately portray the size and scope of the Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo. Some critics objected to "Holiday" on the grounds that the group of men, women and children seen in the park suggested peasants and the proletarian art of Soviet Russia.

Britton received $2,500 for his work in the Waterloo Public Library. The Nebraska native originally went to the University of Iowa to study dentistry. While in Iowa City he became more interested in art, and under Woods, he began collaborating on murals. He worked on several Public Works Administration (PWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects and was technical director for the WPA's art program. He did frescoes for a number of public buildings in Illinois as well as for the Bureau of Mines building in Washington, D.C.

See also Look Beyond the Shelves: Historic Exhibits at the Waterloo Public Library.

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Last updated Wednesday, June 23, 2004

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