CROOKSTON, Minn. – The murals that grace the walls of the Kiehle Auditorium on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus are 75 years old. Their history and impact will be the focus of a special presentation, “The Kiehle Murals: The Art of John Martin Socha,” by historian and librarian Bill Wittenbreer on Thursday, February 16, 2017, at noon. The presentation, which will take place in the Kiehle Building’s historic auditorium, will include the history of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) arts program and the artist and muralist John Martin Socha and his work around Minnesota and the country. The presentation is free, the public is invited, and parking permits will not be required.
Wittenbreer, a librarian and public historian, was the curator of An Artist’s Paradise: Minnesota Landscape Painters, 1840-1940 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, where he also serves on the collections committee. He has written and lectured about Minnesota painters and holds graduate degrees in history and library and information science. He currently works as a librarian at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Kiehle Building, completed in 1910, was one of the first three buildings to be constructed on the campus. Originally, the building held administrative offices, the library, and, on the second level, a gymnasium for the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA). In the 1930s, the second level of Kiehle Building was converted into an auditorium with a balcony. The renowned murals in the auditorium by artist John Martin Socha were added in 1942 as part of the WPA and in part were a gift from the NWSA Class of 1932. The murals have been retained as part of the building's historical significance.
The U of M Crookston Murals Committee is sponsoring the presentation by Wittenbreer in an effort to gain a better appreciation and deeper understanding of the history of the murals. The committee is charged with exploring ways to incorporate the murals into the ongoing education of current and future students; to engage the campus and the greater Crookston community in conversations about the history of the region, its rich and varied diversity, and the campus commitment to diversity; and to interpret the murals for those who visit Kiehle Auditorium.