Is This Mural Still in Storage at the OKC Public School Headquarters?
A rare, out of print book recently brought to my attention has me wondering about the fate of the above mural which was displayed for three decades at Classen High School (now Classen SAS). At first glance, and seen on a far smaller computer screen, the central portion shown of "The Spirit of Oklahoma" seems like a shame to not have out on display – if it still exists.
But take a closer look and there is a story behind the story. It’s a part of our history. And it tells our history. And some of that history clearly was not, and is not, totally embraced as a positive experience. Maybe it’s not appropriate for display at Classen, though I’m curious what others have to say on this. But could it be a valuable addition to a permanent city history exhibit if one should be established at some time in the future?
These are all things to think about. But for now, I’ll quote from the 1976 book “New Deal Murals in Oklahoma” and let the author, Nicholas Calcagno, tell the history of this mural.
The “Spirit of Oklahoma” was designed by Dorothea Stevenson and painted by Arthur Lee Van Arsdale as a Public Works of Art Project in 1934. The public works program was a pilot program designed to aid unemployed artists, so Stevenson, a teacher at Classen High School, was not eligible – leading to the commissioning of Van Arsdale.
The canvas measured 6 ½ feet by 32 feet and at the time was the largest single oil on canvas in Oklahoma. Until a 1960s era renovation, the mural was glued to a wall facing the entrance facing the entrance to the school auditorium.
The mural was two dimensional, a continuous panaroma of figures representing the occupations one encountered in Oklahoma and the flat patterns of background appropriate to the work depected. According to the book’s author, the mural was in storage at the Oklahoma City Public School Administration Building and was desparately in need of restoration and a space for being put back on display.
Aside from renovation plans for the school, opposition toward the mural grew stronger when objections were raised about black residents and their role as cotton pickers. Student protests were key to the mural’s removal.