José Clemente Orozco's First Visit to Dartmouth

Orozco painted a fresco and set his sights on a larger canvas during his March 18-20, 1932 visit.

The following excerpt by Jacquelynn Baas is from a multi-page brochure produced by the Hood Museum of Art and Dartmouth Library in 2017. 

Orozco came to Dartmouth during the weekend of March 18–20, 1932. The fresco he painted on the occasion of this first visit was originally intended as the focal point of a mural cycle in the corridor connecting Carpenter Hall and the library on the theme of the Greek mechanical genius Daedalus. Variously titled “Release,” “Man Released from the Mechanistic,” and, more descriptively, “Man Released from the Mechanistic to the Creative Life”, this first panel was, according to Orozco, “post-war” in theme. He stated in a press release dated May 25, 1932, that the fresco “represents man emerging from a heap of destructive machinery symbolizing slavery, automatism, and the converting of a human being into a robot, without brain, heart, or free will, under the control of another machine. Man is now shown in command of his own hands and he is at last free to shape his own destiny.” During their discussions of the project, Orozco and members of the Art Department became excited at the possibility of a mural in a larger and more accessible location than Carpenter Hall. They set their sights on the reserve reading room on the ground floor of Baker Library, with which Carpenter is linked by a pedestrian passageway. Once he spotted the reserve room’s long expanses of wall, Orozco abandoned Greek mythology for a theme that would retain the universal implications of mythology but be more specific to America. His excitement is palpable in the prospectus he wrote on Hanover Inn letterhead during a second visit to Dartmouth in early May of 1932:

The American continental races are now becoming aware of their own personality, as it emerges from two cultural currents—the indigenous and the European. The great American myth of Quetzalcoatl is a living one embracing both elements and pointing clearly, by its prophetic nature, to the responsibility shared equally by the two Americas of creating here an authentic New World civilization. I feel that this subject has a special significance for an institution such as Dartmouth College which has its origin in a continental rather than in a local outlook—the foundation of Dartmouth, I understand, predating the foundation of the United States.

As Orozco surely had been told, Dartmouth College was chartered by the King of England in 1769 in what was then the royal province of New Hampshire for the purpose of “the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land . . . and also of English Youth and any others.” Artemas Packard made several weekend visits to New York to discuss details of the commission, and on June 9, 1932, a contract was signed by J. C. Orozco, Artemas Packard, and Dartmouth’s treasurer, Halsey Edgerton. It was agreed that Orozco would complete a mural project comprising 2,090 square feet (this figure apparently did not include the section across from the reserve desk) and give “such instruction in the technique of fresco painting as he cares to at his convenience.” The artist was to be paid a total of $5,200 for an eighteen-month project—$4,000 in compensation and $1,200 for travel, room, and board. Orozco received $250 on the execution of the agreement and another $1,250 in late June for completion of his first panel, The Prophecy, over the door at the right-hand end of the reserve room’s west wing (below). With these funds, Orozco was able to embark on a three-month trip to Europe, his first and only visit there.

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Photo courtesy of Dartmouth Library

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