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Ann Rice O'Hanlon & The Memorial Hall Mural: Creating The Mural

Fresco

Ann O'Hanlon chose to use a fresco technique for the Mural in Memorial Hall.  Powdered pigments, mixed with water, are applied onto a wet, fresh, lime-plaster ground.  Only a certain amount of the wall can be painted each day before the plaster dries out, so the artist must work quickly and with confidence:  Although the preliminary outlines and the plaster mix proportions can be controlled and revised, once the actual pigment is applied, the image cannot be corrected.  Through a chemical reaction between the carbon dioxide in the water and the calcium hydrate in the plaster, calcium carbonate is formed and the pigment bonds with the plaster surface.  The surface is nearly indestructible.  Of the 15,663 works commissioned during the six months of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in 1934, just 42 across the United States were frescoes.

SOURCES:

Fowler, H. W (1988). "Ann O'Hanlon's Kentucky Mural," The Kentucky Review, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 57-68.

Clark, Michael and Deborah Clark (2013). "Fresco." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms:  Oxford University Press.  Retrieved 5 Feb. 2016, from http://saa-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/UKY:default_scope:TN_oupqrefacref-9780199569922-e-747.

Chilvers, I. (2009). "fresco." In The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 Feb. 2016, from http://www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.uky.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780199532940.001.0001/acref-9780199532940-e-906.

Outline of The Mural

Ann Rice O'Hanlon sketching the outline of The Mural, Memorial Hall, 1933-34.

University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center: Part of Louis Edward Nollau Nitrate Photographic Print Collection, Accession No.1998ua002.

Mural Illustration

Illustration of pioneers in The Mural by Ann Rice O'Hanlon, Memorial Hall, 1933-34.

University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center: Part of Louis Edward Nollau Nitrate Photographic Print Collection, Accession No.1998ua.002.

O'Hanlon's influences, fresco and social realism in the 1920s-1930s

It is likely that social realism and mural artists Diego Rivera and Behn Shahn influenced Ann O'Hanlon.

The fresco technique began as early as 2000 BCE in Crete.  It reached its zenith in 15th-century Italy.  Mexican artists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfar Siqueiros began a nationwide political art movement in the 1920s and 1930s and revived the fresco technique in the Americas.  The Mexican Mural Movement used a variety of techniques, including fresco, to reach the public--art for all to enjoy instead of a few wealthy collectors.  The artists believed that art was a vital element in social revolution, in expressing social values, and in advancing a political agenda.  Their activities reintroduced mural painting, and fresco, into mainstream art in the 20th century.

Ben Shahn, a Lithuanian-American artist, was also a proponent of the social realism school of the 1930s.  He used his work, which included murals, to argue for social reform and to protest again injustice.  In 1932, Diego Rivera ask Shahn to help him with a large fresco for the RCA Building in the Rockefeller Center in New York City, which was later destroyed in 1934 because of it's political content. Between 1937 and 1942, Shahn was commissioned to produce several murals in various public buildings, community and federal government.

Richard O'Hanlon studied with Diego Rivera when O'Hanlon was a graduate student at the California School of Fine Art.  Ann O'Hanlon learned the technique at the same school, but after Rivera had left.  She created a mural for the school's dining room.

SOURCES:

"Mexican Muralism Movement." Art Encyclopedia, http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/painting/mexican-murals.htm, accessed 2/12/2015.

"Ben Shahn (1898-1969)." Art Encyclopedia, http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/ben-shahn.htm, accessed 2/12/2015.

"Diego Rivera's Murals."  History Detectives Special Investigations, http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/diego-riveras-murals/, accessed 2/12/2015.

Keyes, A. (2014).  "Destroyed By Rockefellers, Mural Trespassed On Political Vision." NPR Weekend Edition, http://www.npr.org/2014/03/09/287745199/destroyed-by-rockefellers-mural-trespassed-on-political-vision, accessed 2/12/2015.

Fowler, H. W (1988). "Ann O'Hanlon's Kentucky Mural," The Kentucky Review, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 57-68.

Clark, Michael and Deborah Clark (2013). "Fresco." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms:  Oxford University Press.  Retrieved 5 Feb. 2016, from http://saa-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/UKY:default_scope:TN_oupqrefacref-9780199569922-e-747.

The Mural's design

O'Hanlon structured the mural using two schemes or plans.  The first, in homage to the classical architecture of Memorial Hall, is the classical Greek idea of the golden section or golden ratio: a system of proportions where the parts of a whole are divided up so that the proportion of the smaller part to the larger part is the same as the proportion of the larger part to the whole. The second is using three main horizontal layers, which depict the "American Scene" in and of Kentucky as required by the terms of the PWAP commission.  

The first, lowest, and largest-scale layer depicts white pioneers in central Kentucky, establishing their presence in the territory.  The second, middle layer shows the advances in education, engineering, science, and medicine made by succeeding generations of Kentuckians. The top layer indicates the rewards of this progress and Kentucky civilization--leisure and higher education. Two large-scale figures flank the central part of the mural on either side of the doors going into the auditorium:  The man holding a hoe, based on O'Hanlon's Lexington poet friend Wesley Littlefield, represents creativity.  The woman, a composite of O'Hanlon and her mother, holding a rake and a history book, represents productivity, intellectuality, and nurturing.  Throughout the mural, there are both autobiographical touches (representations of her parents as pioneers; her childhood home in Lexington), as well as specific historical figures and locations.  These include printer John Bradford (first printing press in Kentucky) and Doctor Samuel Brown (first smallpox inoculation west of the Alleghenies), as well as the Mary Todd Lincoln House, the Blue Grass Fair, Loudon House, Lexington Public Library (now the Carnegie Center), Gratz Park, White Hall, and the University of Kentucky's Administrative Building.

SOURCES:

"Golden Ratio."  Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio, accessed 2/12/2016.  See especially the accompanying diagrams.

Fowler, H. W (1988). "Ann O'Hanlon's Kentucky Mural," The Kentucky Review, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 57-68.

Finished Mural

The Mural by Ann Rice O'Hanlon, Memorial Hall, University of Kentucky, 2015.

Lexington Herald-Leader Photograph, used with permission by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Finished Mural

Pioneers & Native American in The Mural by Ann Rice O'Hanlon, Memorial Hall, 2015.

Lexington Herald-Leader Photograph, used with permission by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Black History Month 2008

"O'Hanlon's 45-foot mural, now in the University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall, depicts several young African-American musicians playing for white dancers. That image suggests a compelling story worthy of celebration during Black History Month: the story of jazz."

Baechtold, S. (2008 February 21). Include jazz in celebration of Black History Month. Lexington Herald-Leader, p. A11.