Murals by two internationally famous artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin have recently been threatened. One, by John Steuart Curry, is being preserved by heroic measures. The fate of the other, by Aaron Bohrod, is unknown.
The Minneapolis-based Midwest Art Conservation Center has essentially built a small building around Curry's 1942 The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research, to save it while the university tears down much of the surrounding biochemistry complex on Henry Mall.
Bohrod's mural in the children's section of the downtown Madison Public Library may not be so fortunate, depending on how the facility expands. The 1965 work shows a Noah's Ark of 17 animals, spanning the width of the children's section.
"Children were very important to him. He loved to expose them to art, and they would visit him in his studio from all around Dane County," says his daughter, Georgi Bohrod Gordon, of San Diego. "Aaron was a literary man. The idea of sharing something in a library setting was important to him."
Bohrod and Curry's Madison careers were the result of a happy experiment. In 1936 the UW College of Agriculture began a peculiar program of sponsoring artists. Its dean, Chris Christensen, believed that a rural arts program was necessary for well-rounded citizenry. Curry, a leading regionalist, was the first artist-in-residence at any university anywhere. He served from 1936 until his death in 1946.
Bohrod replaced him in 1948. He had been an artist with the Works Progress Administration and served as a war correspondent/artist for Life magazine during World War II. Like Curry before him, Bohrod lectured, worked with students and farmers' families, and sparked parallel residencies across America. His paintings appeared on the cover of Time and as a series in Look magazine. When he retired in 1973, no replacement was named. He died in 1992.
There's been "no official discussion on the Aaron Bohrod mural," says library director Barb Dimick. "Staff is expecting that we'll save as much of it as we can, and display all or parts in a new library. We'll pursue this once we know what the future holds for a new or renovated central library, what the costs are, and the plan for the new space."
Madison artist Neil Bohrod, one of Aaron's sons, was disappointed that none of the proposed developers were aware of the mural until he told them. "The only hope they had for it was if they could renovate around it," he says.
Ironically, in 2007 a retrospective of Aaron Bohrod's work was featured across the street, at the Overture Center for the Arts.
Neil's wife, Wisconsin Public Radio host Ruthanne Bessman, says of the mural, "It is a historic work. It is an important work. He was important in this community and internationally. It would be very sad if they did not respect it."