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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Overcast
Arts
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Madison masterpieces: John Steuart Curry murals, UW Biochemistry Building
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Curry's murals are testament to a forward-thinking collaboration between the sciences and arts.
Curry's murals are testament to a forward-thinking collaboration between the sciences and arts.
Credit:Jeff Miller / UW Communications

On a stroll through the UW campus, there's plenty of art to see, from the newly expanded Chazen Museum of Art to galleries within Memorial Union and Union South.

But not all of the university's artistic treasures are in places you might expect. Take the stairwell of the recently renovated Biochemistry Building. There you'll find murals by the renowned American painter John Steuart Curry that are not only fascinating in their own right, but also a testament to a forward-thinking collaboration between the sciences and arts.

Curry, part of a trio of famed regionalists along with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, was invited to the UW in 1936 as artist-in-residence. While such arrangements are now common at schools across the country, Curry's position was the first of its kind in the nation - and it was through the College of Agriculture, not the art department.

The 1940s mural The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research dramatically depicts the gains brought by vitamin discoveries and applications by leading UW researchers such as Harry Steenbock.

Sickly children and animals contrast with vibrant, healthy kids and livestock striding forward. Spread over three walls in the octagonal stairwell, the main panel exudes a sincere conviction in human progress and the ability of science to make life better. Additional panels in the stairwell show lush cornstalks waving in the wind and an idyllic farm where roosters, sows, calves and other critters thrive.

A nearby conference room contains more Curry murals, and works by Curry are also in the permanent collections of the Chazen and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

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