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The Blue & Gray Press | August 25, 2019

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Professor disputes whether murals in Monroe and George Washington Halls reflect UMW values

Professor disputes whether murals in Monroe and George Washington Halls reflect UMW values


In the 1940s, professor Emil Schnellock and his students partook in an art project in which they painted a variety of murals in the academic halls of Monroe and George Washington. These murals are still on the walls of the buildings today. In an effort to preserve the historic murals, Monroe Hall underwent renovation in 2011 and the murals were left untouched, covered with plywood and were documented for safekeeping. However, the presence of these murals has created mixed feelings among professors and students.

In total, the murals depict 19 paintings of white men and nine paintings of white women. There are also murals depicting the state of Virginia and of UMW buildings. The males in the images are primarily dressed in working clothes while the females are painted more symbolically as a way to represent truth and justice.

“I think they are a big problem on many levels,” Dr. Allyson Poska said, history and american studies professor. “They are ugly, poorly done, poorly preserved and send an inappropriate message in terms of gender and Mary Washington, I personally do not think that they represent the university really well.”

Others feel as if the murals provide a sense of history to the building. “I’ve always liked the Monroe murals, they really show the place’s history,” said junior English major Emma Cahoon. “And I think they’re in pretty good condition for how old they are.”

There are also those who appreciate the meaning of the artwork. “The murals are well-developed and complex,” said freshman Chad Velezis. “They depict interesting historic themes and scenery that are designed to provide further meaning to those who inquire about their history, origins and intended purpose.”

The depiction of genders within the murals has become controversial. Some feel as if the images are empowering to both males and females, alike.

“The murals depict men as being fighters and workers, while women are shown as being protectors and delegators,” Velezis said. “These qualities fit modern stereotypes attached to both genders.”

There are also those who feel that there is a noticeable difference between how the two genders are shown and how this relates to the time period in which the murals were painted.

“The men are dressed in work clothes or what looks like a uniform of some sort, while mostly all the women are wearing some type of dress or robe,” said freshman Samantha Wagley.

Part of the reason such a difference may exist could be because of the time that they were created.

“The murals definitely reflect biases of the time that they were painted so I’m not surprised if they’re under fire for racism or sexism,” Cahoon said. Another topic of discussion amongst students and faculty in relation to the murals is their overall preservation over the years.

“Considering that the murals are well over 75-years- old and have survived several periods of renovation, they are in excellent shape,” Velezis said. “Normal wear and damage are to be expected and add to the rich history of the hall.”

To some though, the noticeable deterioration of some of the murals leads to the hope for restoration.

“I think that some of the murals are in very good condition, but some of them need a little bit of work,” Wagley said. “For example, some of the paint is chipped away on some of the murals.”

As a result of the differing feelings surrounding the murals, a variety of options about what, if anything, should be done to them has been considered.

“If someone felt like the murals needed to be preserved, then they should be removed and properly preserved,” Dr. Poska said. “Another choice is to paint over them. That they redid the whole building and left those falling apart without cleaning them does not make any sense.”