The following was submitted by Ron Coffey.
McClain murals reflect the talents of Boston artist Vesper Lincoln George
“Three of the more notable works of art at McClain High School are the large murals by Boston native Vesper Lincoln George (1865-1934). One of the murals is located above the famed marble staircase, while two even larger ones serve as bookends on the east and west walls of the library.
Vesper Lincoln George was a Boston native who had his professional training in New York and Paris. He achieved success as an artist and created many paintings using the traditional easel method, but his true passion seemed to be creating murals, which usually were hung in public places such as banks and libraries where they were viewed by many people. George began painting murals in 1908, and had established an excellent reputation by the time Edward Lee and Lulu McClain decided to build a high school filled with art. The McClains traveled to the Boston area to have a look at some of George’s works and ended up commissioning three murals. George subsequently visited Greenfield to see where the murals would be hung and submitted sketches with working titles, “The Apotheosis of Education”, “Pageant of Prosperity” and “The Early Settler”.
Mr. McClain approved the first two of George’s themes, but wished the third mural to be titled “The Melting Pot” after a turn-of-the-century play, and reflect the theme of that story.
The McClain paid $10,000 for each of the murals, which were completed by Vesper Lincoln George in his Boston studio during the period 1918-20. Upon completion, the murals were critiqued by the Boston art world before being brought to Greenfield in the company of their creator. The murals were painted in sections and George oversaw their installation, with “The Apotheosis of Education” being installed first, in 1919. Soon after it was referred to in the school newspaper, the Dragon, and in the Greenfield Republican as “The Apotheosis of Youth,” which seems to be the preferred name as that is how the mural is listed in the McClain Art Catalog. The other murals were installed in 1920.
Once the murals were in place, George conducted a program in the auditorium telling how the murals were created and explaining their allegorical meaning.
The murals in the library are each 40 feet long, while “The Apotheosis of Youth” above the staircase measures 12 feet by 24 feet.
It was Vesper Lincoln George’s intent that his three murals should be viewed in the following order: 1. “The Melting Pot”; 2. “The Apotheosis of Youth”; 3. “The Pageant of Peace and Prosperity”. Yet they can be appreciated in any order, on the merits of their artistic execution or symbolism, and to this day the murals continue to inspire students to dream big dreams.”
On Labor Day Weekend 2015 (Sept. 4-5-6) McClain High School will celebrate its centennial with numerous special activities. For more information, visit http://www.mcclain100.org.
ADDENDUM: After publishing this piece Susan Caplinger Thompson offered the following information:
“One of the things we learned doing research for the McClain H.S. book the Greenfield Historical Society has done (which should be delivered by the end of this week!), is that Mr. McClain and Mr. George became good friends. Mr. George was so distraught at learning of McClain’s death that he died. The same day!”