Orozco murals named national historic landmark

by The Dartmouth Staff | 3/12/13 3:35pm

Jose Clemente Orozco's famed mural series in Baker-Berry Library was named a national historic landmark yesterday at a commemoration by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis. "The Epic of American Civilization" was one of 13 monuments to receive the prestigious designation this year.

A campus jewel, Orozco's panorama depicts an "alternative history" of the Americas rooted in indigenous civilizations and their downfall following contact with Europeans, art history professor Mary Coffey said. Coffey testified before the National Park's advisory board last fall in support of the landmark honor.

Known for his bold use of color and evocative storytelling imagery, Orozco created the murals from 1932 to 1934 as the College's second artist-in-residence. Orozco was invited to campus to teach fresco painting and then-President Ernest Hopkins supported the commission of the project. Spanning over 3,000 feet of wall space, the murals depict harrowing scenes of war and torture, organized labor and ancient Aztecs, among others.

The murals were reopened to the public last October after a four-month renovation of the library course reserves area, newly renamed the Orozco Room. Updates included the installation of a new lighting system to better display the works, as well as furniture and desk lamps.

"It is gratifying that Dartmouth's showcasing of the most significant work of Orozco's career has been recognized as a prominent destination in telling our nation's rich and diverse story," Interim President Carol Folt said in a statement.

The National Historical Landmarks Program, which began in 1935 and is sponsored by the National Park Service, recognizes nationally significant historic places that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating American heritage. The Orozco murals are the only landmark to be housed or sponsored by a college or university this year. There are currently 2,540 named national historic landmarks.