Margery Eva Lang Hamilton - The Song of Hiawatha
Margery Eva Lang Hamilton (1907/8-1997), American
The Song of Hiawatha, 1934
OIL ON BOARD, 31 x 82 ¼ inches
Funded by a grant from the Public Works of Art Project of the Civil Works Administration
This mural depicts a scene from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's narrative poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," written in 1855. Derived from Native American legend, the poem tells the story of an Anishinabe Indian (also called Chippewa or Ojibway) of the Upper Midwest, who rises to become a leader of his tribe. Selecting a scene appropriate to her audience, the artist illustrated young Hiawatha's friend, Chibiabos, befriending the animals.
From the hollow reeds he fashioned Flutes so musical and mellow, Thar the brook, the Sebowisha, Ceased to murmur in the woodland, That the wood-birds ceased from singing, And the squirrel, Adjidaumo, Ceased his chatter in the oak tree, And the rabbit, the Wabasso, Sat upright to look and listen.
The context of Lang's commission to create the Athenaeum's four murals is itself significant. After the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 on a platform of economic reform and relief. His aggressive lies of programs, known collectively as the New Deal, included the Civil Works Administration, a precursor of the better-known Works Progress Administration. Under the Civil Works Administration, Roosevelt provided the first federal aid to the arts, much of 'sponsoring artworks for public buildings and spaces throughout the country. In 1934, Margery Lang, a recent graduate of the St. Johnsbury Academy and student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, received one of the program's early grants to paint four murals for the Athenaeum's Children's Room and used local residents as her models.