It is hard to not notice the edition to the north end of the second floor of the library; a realist mural new to the Missouri S&T campus, but not to the City of Rolla. The painting was originally commissioned in 1952 by the Sower’s family, who owned the Rolla Daily News. The artist, Sidney Larson, completed the piece in 1953 and it was the second largest mural in the state of Missouri at that time with dimensions of five feet by twenty-two feet. The painting tells the story of the events that led to the founding of Rolla until post World War II. It was donated to the The Sower’s family donated the mural to the school and is now being restored as it finds its permanent home in the Curtis Wilson Laws Library.
The painting had spent the main portion of its life in the Rolla Daily News Office located in the Sowers Building on seventh street. Here, the three-panel painting (the panels are actually ping pong tables) was bolted to the wall and thus endured slight cracking as the walls settled. It also encountered some water damage during this time. Dan Woodard has been commissioned to restore the artwork to its original glory. He began his restoration in early February and expects to complete his project in around a month’s time in the beginning of March. He has faced some challenges pertaining to color matching the vivid shades of the original mural and using similar paints that were common in the era that it was originally created in, such as casein paints and egg varnishes. For example, the casein paint dries significantly faster than many paints that are typically used today and is water soluble. Despite these hurdles, he says that he has been “given the red carpet” and is truly enjoying the task at the moment.
The mural tells a story from left to right in the chronological order of historical significant events that shaped the course of Rolla, Missouri. The first homestead that was established in the area by John Webber is depicted, along with Edmund Bishop nailing up the “Rolla” sign, who is credited as being the Founder of the City. As time progresses, the Ironworks can be seen, along with the rich agriculture business and shoe factory, which the local economy depended upon. World War I and World War II are both illustrated in the middle of the mural. The Rolla Daily News printing machine is a focal point of the painting as well. Missouri School of Mines (MSM), currently known as Missouri University of Science and Technology, is represented by the experimental mine, a woman observing a sample in a electron microscope, and several buildings on campus at the time;including the Rolla building, which is still in use today.
The addition of the mural is essential to preserving the history of the Rolla community, students and “townies” alike, and will serve as an educational piece for many decades to come. I urge you to head to the library to encounter this beautiful piece of art come to life again and learn more about the community with a history that may surprise you. Additionally, many other works will be on exhibit from now until the end of March as part of the juried Student Art Show that allows S&T students to highlight their pieces. If you are lucky enough, you might catch Woodard on a break from his restoration work and learn more about the history of Rolla and the incredible people that have influenced the journey of this amazing mural.