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November 13th, 2000
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John Steuart Curry's "The Freeing of the Slaves"

Painted in 1942 by American Regionalist artist John Steuart Curry, "The Freeing of the Slaves" mural still dominates the Law Library's Old Reading Room. Born November 14th, 1897, this Tuesday marks the 103rd anniversary of the artist's birth.

Originally destined for the U.S. Department of Justice Building in 1936, the mural's design was rejected as too racially controversial for Washington DC. Curry's powerful sketches did, however, catch the attention of then Law School Dean, Lloyd Garrison. Grandson of famous Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Dean Garrison felt a strong connection to the work.

Upon Curry's appointment as artist-in-residence at UW-Madison, Garrison approached the artist about painting the work in what was then the "new" Law Library Reading Room. Curry accepted and began work on the mural, which was located right above bustling new circulation desk.

Upon it's completion, Curry wrote this of the mural: "I feel in this painting I have made a work that is historically true and I also feel that it is prophetic of that which is to come."

In addition to the mural at the Law School, Curry painted other works on campus including "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research" in the Biochemistry Building and a memorial painting to All-American David Nathan Schreiner in the National W Club room in Camp Randall.

For more information about the mural, see the framed history with comments by the artist and Dean Garrison on the west wall of the Old Reading Room. A reprint of an article about the mural which appeared in the The Gargoyle also hangs on the west wall.* Full color copies of this article are available at the Reference Desk.
Photo of Curry's "The Freeing of the Slaves"

* Paul Reidinger, The Law School's Curry Mural: One of the Grandest and Most Distinguished Works of Art in Wisconsin, XVI The Gargoyle 10 (Summer 1985).

Written by: Bonnie Shucha
Reference & Electronic Services Librarian

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