History

Farrell Library, named for K-State's eighth President, Francis D. Farrell, was built in 1927 to permanently house the university's growing collection of books and to provide students a place to study.1 The Great Room (also called the Mural Room, the Reading Room, the Gothic Room, and the Harry Potter Room) was a prominent feature of Farrell Library and was a favorite place for students to study.2

In 1933, the federal government's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a program that helped people find jobs during the Great Depression, commissioned the murals.3 David Overmyer, an artist from Topeka, and his assistant Byron Wolfe were hired to paint four murals to be displayed in the Great Room.

The murals depict the four areas of study that were available to students when Farrell Library was constructed: "Agriculture," "Mechanics," "Arts," and "Home." The 11 ft by 15 ft murals flank the main entrance of the Great Room and cover the majority of the west wall.

Overmyer and Wolfe painted oil directly on plaster to create the images, and the project took them a year to complete.4 When the murals were first completed, they were the largest group of murals in the state of Kansas.5

The Murals

 

Science & Industry

Located on the far left of the entrance, the Science and Industry mural combines an observatory, a chemist holding a test tube, massive gears, an anvil, and steam rising from the ladle to represent manufacturing. Centered at the top, the Torch of the Industrial Arts illuminates the future.

 

Agriculture

Located on the immediate left of the entrance, the Agriculture mural celebrates productivity with vegetation, a farmstead, and a church steeple. Also depicted is a harvest, sheperdess, ox, and lamb.

 

 

Arts

Located on the immediate right of the entrance, the Arts mural features an idyllic, classical Greek landscape and an artist with five personifications of art: music, literature, drama, painting, and architechture. The lamp in the upper left is the Greek symbol for learning.

 

 

Home

Located on the far right of the entrance, the Home mural is where a well-cared-for family is represented by a father, mother with child and baby, and a Betty Lamp, the symbol of the American Home Economics Association.

 

Restoration

Beginning in 1987, the first mural restoration occurred to repair water and tar damage that had accumulated over the years from a leak in the roof.6 The murals received a second restoration in 1996 in conjunction with the library's expansion, known today as Hale Library. The paintings received touch-ups and cleaning, while the original Great Room furniture, including the 75 year old tables, were restored and brought back into the room where they reside to this day.7

In 2008, improvements occurred within the historic areas of the library to update the exterior, cabinetry, lighting, carpet, paintings, and furniture. At this time, the murals were once again cleaned, repaired, and touched up.8

By the summer of 2013, a donation by Mark Chapman allowed for the most recent restoration to the Great Room. This restoration occurred to reline the Great Room windows with lead, treat them with UV protection and weather-proofing materials, and add a "Royal Purple" trim.9

Sources

Courtesy of Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries

  1. Donahue, R. (2002, April 23). "Historic" Farrell library Great Room. The Collegian, p. 1.
  2. Deines, A. (2013, October 20). Hale library replaces windows in Great Room, uses a royal purple trim. The Topeka Capital-Journal, p. 1B.
  3. Bower, M. (1985). Farrell murals: new deal legacy. The Library Insider, p. 2.
  4. CWA art administration provides library murals. The Kansas Industrialist. (1934, March 14). p. 1.
  5. Donahue, R. (2002, April 23). "Historic" Farrell library Great Room. The Collegian, p. 1.
  6. Sottosanti, K. (1996, July 28). New life for old art. The Manhattan Mercury, n.p.
  7. Donahue, R. (2002, April 23). "Historic" Farrell library Great Room. The Collegian, p. 1.
  8. Faded library murals cleaned. The Library Insider. (1985, Fall). p. 1B.
  9. Deines, A. (2013, October 20). Hale library replaces windows in Great Room, uses a royal purple trim. The Topeka Capital-Journal, p. 1B.