Editorial: History in the form of artwork is well worth saving at ISD 696
The Ely school board looks to be on board with saving historic and artistic murals that once adorned the walls in school buildings.
David Tice Workman’s Ely murals have been listed on the database of the Smithsonian Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture with assistance from Judy Pope.
Pope, a resident of Reston, Virginia and a Winton summer resident, was a dedicated volunteer at the Ely-Winton Historical Society. She also worked as a docent implementing programs on American history for children at the Smithsonian Musuems.
She considered the David Tice Workman paintings of famous men in history to be worthy of entry into a database at the Smithsonian and was put in touch with Robin T. Dettre, coordinator of the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Pope documented each of the panels in detail and attached a colored photograph of each in late August of 2014 and a few weeks later the paintings were added to the Smithsonian’s growing inventory database.
Workman studied with Howard Pyle who had studied with N.C. Wyeth, both well known as illustrators.
The 12 Workman Ely paintings were done between 1926 and 1935, paid for by graduating classes of Ely Memorial High School.
They represented Charles Lindbergh, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Socrates, Moses, George Washington, Horace Winchell (a mining pioneer), Sir Frances Drake, Robert Burns and Thomas Edison.
In 1975, the high school library, where they were located, was converted into a media center and the ceiling was lowered. Ely resident Mary Levander talked to the architect and was given two weeks to save the panels.
Salvage work began with Levander, her daughter Kristen, high school art teacher Joe Edlund and his son Tom carefully removing each panel from the walls.
Funding to repair and re-locate the work was received from the Ely-Winton Historical Society and the Minnesota Historical Society. The panels were then placed around Ely locations. In February 2014 they were hung adjacent to the doors to Washington School Auditorium.
With the most recent remodeling project, the ceilings were lowered which made the area no longer suitable to hang the paintings.
Thanks to Pam Turnbull, who became aware in mid-October that the murals were discovered stacked backstage at Washington Auditorium, and she subsequently reached out to school officials, who have since had them moved to a more safe and secure location.
We believe the Ely school board and administration must do all they can to preserve these works of art and an important link to Ely’s history.
If you’d like to learn more about each painting, the inventories database is located at: americanart.si.edu/research/programs/inventory.