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Timeless Fresco Murals Connect Classrooms and Careers: Bloom Archives

Edgar Britton's six works of art remain relevant more than 75 years after they were completed.

While last week's installment turned out to be a worldly experience in the archives, this week's trip to ended up being a lesson in art history.

Anyone who has ever ventured through the main entrance of the school is probably familiar with the six mammoth murals positioned asymmetrically to the left and right of the staircases.

For me, they were eye-catching, to the say the least. Once again Don Croarkin, the man in charge of the Bloom Archives, helped provide a full history on the puzzling paintings. 

They are often referred to as the Edgar Britton Frescoes, affectionately named after the man who painted them about 75 years ago, not too long after the current incarnation of Bloom High School first opened its doors.

Like the rest of the school, the murals were a project commissioned by the Work Progress Administration, a program born out of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression. It seems FDR's name is coming up a lot in this series.

The panels on which the murals were painted had been set aside when the building was completed, strictly for artistic purposes.

As Britton worked on the murals, students modeled for him, playing a role in the artist's desired depiction of the clear connection between high school and the real world work it prepares students for. The names of the murals drive home that relationship: "Agriculture," "Art," "Construction," "Industry," "Medicine" and "Aviation."

More than the finished product, the process Britton used to construct the murals was astounding.

The word "fresco" is derived from the Latin word for fresh, and that best describes Britton's approach to the paintings. The careful use of plaster factors into the fresco style required to create such long-lasting murals. The artist painted five separate coats of lime plaster to achieve a vibrant and striking appearance. The final layer had a glass-like quality, permanently solidifying the colors of the previous layers.

But nothing is forever.

As the years passed, the murals lost their luster, collecting dust and residue in much the same way the Weber-Costello Globe did. To add insult to injury, during the 1960s and ’70s, groups of students tagged parts of the murals with graffiti.

In June of 1982, closely following the school's entrance into the National Register of Historic Places, an inspired Principal James Steckel, whom the school library is now named after, got the ball rolling toward getting the murals restored.

Under the leadership of the Bloom Historic Place Committee, former teachers and alumni came together to raise money for the restoration and, with the help of a grant from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, they saw their efforts come to fruition.

In June of 1987, the frescoes were restored by Portia Paradise from Madison, Wis., and Franciszka Hourriere of Paris, France. The two artist-conservators repaired the damages and cleaned the murals, but they were skilled enough to leave intact the protective layer, which protected the colors.

On Oct. 18, 1987, the murals were officially rededicated, further ingraining them into the history of one of America's historic places.

Take a look at the photos above to see Edgar Britton's vision of the role high school plays in shaping our lives. To see the real thing, step into the main entrance of Bloom High School.

Marvin Daily April 29, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Those murals are beautiful. Bloom High School...not so much.
Mick May 04, 2011 at 01:37 AM
I believe Bloom High School is beautiful. The landscaping is superb as you approach it. The hallways are quiet and the instruction going on is first class. The building is clean, the grafitti erased as quickly as it is put up, and the floors are waxed, and the walls painted. The old building has been taken care of with a limited budget. It is not perfect, but what is. If your problem is the students, then please remember that the school must take, yes must take, what the community gives them. Their values, ethics, and desire for education comes from their parents and the educational facilities of the elementary schools it serves. If you don't like them, then please say it.
mr lahey May 06, 2011 at 03:26 AM
too bad most of the citizens in town have no idea what bloom looks like inside very nice old historic building looks great! attend an open house and check it out you will be surprised

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