Editor's note: The following essay, with Endnotes, is printed with permission of the Springfield Library and Museums Association. The essay was included in the 256 page illustrated 1999 catalogue titled Selections from the American Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts and the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, ISBN 0-916746-18-6, pp. 80-82. In addition to the essay, the catalogue contains an image and provenance of the painting and an exhibition schedule. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in purchasing the catalogue, please contact the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts directly through either this phone number or web address:
Sante Graziani, born 1920
(Casein on plaster wall, 24 feet 10 inches long x 7 feet 7 inches high, Signed and dated lower right: Sante Graziani 1947, Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of the Van Norman Machine Tool Co. of Springfield, 47.14)
by Mary E. Kinnecome
In the fall of 1942, the Museum of Fine Arts announced a design competition for the creation of a mural for the museum. The winner was Sante Graziani, an artist from Cleveland, Ohio, who has lived in the New England area since 1951. Graziani began his design while he was a graduate student at Yale University. In March of 1943, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he completed his final sketch for the Springfield competition.
Graziani included all of the arts -- dance, music, theater, painting, sculpture, architecture, photography -- in his design. Both Graziani and the museum wanted to bring the arts to the public, and the mural prompted then-director, Frederick Robinson, to institute theater and symphony events at the museum.
In painting the mural, Graziani did not redraw his design onto the wall but, instead, transferred the full-scale cartoons by a method called "pouncing." He then painted the entire mural in sepia, providing the undercoat upon which he applied color. He executed the mural in casein on a plaster wall in the "fresco secco" technique. Essentially, Graziani painted four panels which merge together to create a city scene. From left to right, he depicted drama and dance; crafts, painting, sculpture, architecture and photography; music; and the Springfield community.
In the drama and dance panel, Graziani painted three costumed theater figures. To the left of the group, a man in a horse mask parts a curtain symbolizing the stage of the theater. A woman dressed in a leotard represents dance. In the midst of the group is a young boy, perhaps representing Graziani's wish for both young and old to participate in the arts.
The second panel includes a group of young boys working on a potter's wheel. In the center of this panel the sculptor Leonard Baskin, Graziani's former college roommate, carves a block of wood. A group behind the sculptor takes a photograph, and architecture is represented by three men on scaffolding working with plaster and bricks. The two brick walls which enclose the second and third panels symbolize the museum and the building of a foundation for the arts. Finally, Graziani represented the art of painting with two men who dab paint onto a canvas.
Music is represented by five youths sitting on a bench: one is playing the mandolin, one the clarinet, and the others are singing. Five adults stand to their left, including a woman inspired by the local African-American singer, Adele Addison, who holds a violin. Addison represents not only the art of singing, but also the creative contributions of Springfield's African-American community, which was gaining prominence in the late 1940s. To the far right of the mural, a man in overalls leads a young boy up the steps of the platform to enter the scene -- symbolically entering the world of the arts. Graziani depicted himself as this small boy because he recalls "haunting the museum on Saturdays" as a child in Cleveland. In addition, in his preparatory works, Graziani identified the man as a "workman," perhaps symbolizing his wish for all classes, not just the wealthy, to participate in the arts.
The timeless subject matter of the arts, as well as the inclusion of young men, African-American women, and blue as well as white collar workers, conveys a universal theme. By depicting recognizable buildings and people of Springfield, Graziani localized the mural. He included landmarks like the Alexander House on State Street and the First Church on Court Square. A red brick factory, believed to refer to the Van Norman Tool Company on Main Street, rises in the background of the music panel. He also included regionally-known personalities, such as sculptor Leonard Baskin, who appears at the center of the work, and former museum director Frederick Robinson. Graziani, himself, peeks out from the right background of the scene. While the mural originally represented the museum itself, over time it has come to symbolize Springfield's growing cultural community.
The Graziani work is a classic example of the type of mural painting popular in the United States in the 1930s and '40s, a style inspired by the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Mural painting in this country was supported during these decades by the government-sponsored Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which allowed artists the opportunity to earn a small but steady income for executing public works of art. Graziani was never part of the WPA, but he was influenced by American artists renowned at the time, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry. Although not a pioneer in the art world, Graziani technically mastered the mural fresco technique, a truly American form of painting in the 1930s and '40s, and has been an influential teacher throughout his career. In this mural, he combined the huge format of the Mexican muralists with the regionalist style of United States artists to create a busy, exciting celebration of the arts in Springfield.
1. The competition was funded by the Van Norman Tool Company of Springfield and was open to all interested artists living in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. One hundred thirty-five designs were submitted; the jury was comprised of the artists Margit Varga and William Gropper, and the art critics Edward Rowen and Forbes Watson. Karen Papineau, Sante Graziani: A Celebration (Springfield, Mass.: Museum of Fine Arts, 1978), pa. 4-6.
2. In 1948, Graziani received the Master of Fine Arts from Yale University. From 1948-1952 he painted the murals in the Public Library of Holyoke, Mass. He has also painted murals at the American Battle Monument, Henri Chapelle, Belgium (1956-1957), the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. (1969), and the Worcester Courthouse in Worcester, Mass. (1976).
3. Papineau, pa. 4-6.
4. Pounce is a fine powder used for making stencil patterns. "Fresco secco" means "dry fresco" and refers to the method of painting on the surface of dry plaster with pigments mixed in a binding medium. This method differs from the more standard "fresco buon" or "true fresco" technique, in which paint is applied to wet plaster with pigments suspended in water.
5. Papineau, p. 6.
7. Graziani made two preparatory paintings and 14 preparatory drawings for the mural. The Museum of Fine Arts owns the painting Full Scale Detail (Dance and Theater Group) From Revised Design for Museum of Fine Arts' Mural (1947, 35 1/4 x 24 in., tempera on panel).
8. Graziani also included Stan Benjamin, his roommate from Yale; Panos Ghikas from the Rhode Island School of Design; and Louis York, head of the painting department at Yale. Papineau, p. 6.
9. Graziani said, "[These artists] were the 'Holy Trinity' of art while I was in school. We were all imbued with Regionalism and Nationalism, but not in a political way. It was the visual aspects of their work that turned me on more than the subject matter that inspired their painting." Papineau, p. 8.
10. Graziani was an instructor of drawing and painting at Yale from 1946-1951; head of the School of the Worcester Art Museum from 1951-1972, dean 1972-1981, dean emeritus from 1981-present.
About the author
At the time of publication of the essay, these biographical notes for the author were included in the catalogue.
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