Dartmouth Digital Orozco – navigation Help – National Historic Site – Boston Mothers concern; The monumental mural cycle The Epic of American Civilization was painted by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco between 1932 and 1934 in Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College.
History and Controversy of the project, leading to ultimate designation a National Historic Site
The monumental mural cycle The Epic of American Civilization was painted by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco between 1932 and 1934 in Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth College. This national historic landmark is considered one of the finest examples of mural painting in this country by one of the greatest twentieth-century practitioners of public art.
In addition to the mural, Dartmouth owns more than two hundred preparatory drawings and historical photographs, which due to their fragility, are not on public view except when they are shown in special exhibitions at the college’s Hood Museum of Art.
Dartmouth Digital Orozco invites you to explore this wealth of material in conjunction with Orozco’s finished mural. This interactive journey reveals Orozco’s creative process, methods, and the evolution of this great work. To learn more about how to explore this site, visit the help page.
The Epic of American Civilization is a mural by the social realist painter José Clemente Orozco. It is located in the basement reading room of the Baker Memorial Library on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The mural, painted between 1932 and 1934, consists of a series of 24 fresco panels, whose principal themes are the impact of both indigenous Native Americans and European colonists on North America, and the impact of war (particularly the Mexican Civil War and the First World War) and rapid industrialization on the human spirit.
Orozco painted the mural during the same time his fellow muralist, Diego Rivera, was working on his murals at the Rockefeller Center in New York. But while Rivera’s portrait of Lenin led to his mural being painted over, Orozco was given full political freedom to paint as he chose. His images offended a group of Dartmouth parents who called themselves the Boston Mothers. “We would be everlastingly grateful to you,” the mothers wrote to college president Ernest Hopkins, “if the pictures could be destroyed.” Another letter to Hopkins was more blunt: “Orozco has shouted forth in paint the Communist Manifesto!”
But Hopkins, a lifelong Republican, defended Orozco’s right to paint as he chose. “There are 100% Americans who have objected to the fact that we employed a Mexican to do this work,” Hopkins wrote to the mothers, “but I have never believed that art could be made either racial or national.” Responding to concerns that Orozco’s imagery was not “nice”, Hopkins wrote, “if that be a criterion of judgment many of the great works of the medieval masters would have to be removed from the Louvre.”
The mural was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013.