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Study Hall: 1936

Study Hall: 1936

Washington, D.C., circa 1936. "Tech High School students." View full size. 5x7 safety negative, National Photo Company Collection.


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Phillip Fletcher Bell mural

If this is indeed McKinley High School the mural in the library was painted by Philip Fletcher Bell. He painted the mural prior to the Federal Art Project under the WPA, first under the Federal Relief Administration and then the Civil Works Administration. He worked on the painting part time and it took two years to complete. Bell's work on the mural led to him becoming director of the Children's Art Gallery in DC, an experiment in children's art education. Art galleries were set up through the WPA across the country during the late 1930s, but the one in DC was unusual because it focused on children's artwork.

The mural itself generated a little controversial when it was painted. It includes portraits that represent prominent politicians of the day including Huey Long, a populist who was assassinated in 1935. Bell included a halo over Long in the painting that he had to remove.

I've tried to find out if the mural is still extant but can't find anything about it online. The high school's enrollment had dropped from a high of 2,400 students in the late 1960s to 500 in the mid-1990s, and closed in 1997. The school reopened as a technology-focused high school in 2004, but I can't find anything online about the schools renovation that includes restoration of the library mural.

If you want to learn more about Philip Bell, an oral interview with him completed by the Archives of American Art is posted here.

Double take

Before enlarging the photo, I thought the librarian was George Washington.

As for the mural: Please don't tell me it has been painted over!

McKinley Tech Library

It may be too late for Dave to check on that muralist. Take a look at the photo here.

[OMG. The muralist is . . . Sherwin Williams! - Dave]

Dave's Backyard

If this HS still exists, Dave could visit it and get the name of the muralist, Dave lives close by.

[How nice that you know so ... much ... about ... me. - Dave]


Noooo!!! Not a stereotyped librarian! She puts the rest of us non-sensible shoe wearing librarians in such a bad light!

Tech Cyclorama

Thomas Hart Benton had a much looser and more fluid style than the stiff and somewhat formal scenes here. It is also not typical of Benton that he would have posed iconic figures such as Moses The Lawgiver (I think) over the doorway. This is much more in the style of the Capitol Rotunda.

[See below for what might be the artist's signature. The art instructor at McKinley was Alexis B. Many (1879-1937). - Dave]

The Mural

The mural has all the hallmarks of being one of Thomas Hart Benton's works. I'm working on verification. Great photo!

Safety Negative

Hi. Sorry for the dumb question but what's a safety negative?

[Acetate film as opposed to nitrate stock, which being chemically similar to dynamite was dangerously flammable. Wikipedia entry: Safety film. - Dave]

Study Hall

This is most likely McKinley Tech High School. My mother graduated from there in 1936, so when I saw the photo, my heart almost stopped. But she was not one of the girls in it.

[There's one more (below). - Dave]

Distracting environment

So many books available to browse, several panels, statues, those murals. I know I would be unable to study here, too many distractions; on the other hand with some additions it would make the perfect cafeteria for academics and artists.

But definitely not the place to prepare for my finals.


I'd love to know who the muralist was. This looks like the murals the WPA painted in many courthouses in the 30s. The librarian looks disapprovingly at the photographer disturbing the Golden Silence of "her" library

One of the great mysteries of life is how old maid librarians reproduce. However they do it, it must happen, since there seems to be a never ending supply of spinster librarians.

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