Friday, April 10, 2015

Portrait of an artist of a different time

Henry Allen Nord's painting "Labor at Rest," donated to the Idaho Falls Municipal Library in April 1940, still hanging in the Museum of Idaho. Another mural was hung at the same time, but has gone somewhere else in ensuing years.
While researching a writing this week’s “Looking Back” column for the Post Register, I came across a name I didn’t know, Henry Allen Nord, an Idaho Falls native most famous for his mural work in the 1930s and the artist responsible for the largest piece of public art produced by the New Deal.

Born in 1904, Nord left Idaho Falls as a young man to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and later Yale University. After graduating, he moved to Southern California, where he did his work an taught.

His parents, Nels and Hannah Nord, remained here, however, and in April 1940 he returned to Idaho Falls to donate two large paintings to the Idaho Falls Municipal Library, which at that time had been significantly remodeled and expanded (it is now part of the Museum of Idaho.)

One of Nord’s paintings, “Labor at Rest,” still hangs above an office door at the museum’s south end. The other larger painting, the mural “Men and Horses,” is no longer hanging and its whereabouts are unknown, said Museum Curator Claire Smith.

I got interested in Nord, and discovered that after graduating from college he moved to Long Beach, Calif., where his most famous work still exists, a tile mosaic entitled “Recreations of Long Beach.”
Nord's mosaic mural in Long Beach, Calif.

Celebrating Long Beach's love of recreational living, this was the largest piece of public art to emerge from the New Deal. Nord started it in 1936 and, with assistance from Albert Henry King and Stanton MacDonald-Wright, finished it in 1938. It graced the facade of the old Long Beach Municipal Auditorium until the building was torn down in the 1970s. In 1982, it was relocated to its current space at 3rd Street and Promenade, where it now caps off the north end of the popular strip.

Plenty of people today have strong views about the government’s role in funding art projects, but I think it is interesting to go back 80 years to the Depression and look at attitudes then.

As administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, Harry Hopkins noted that “artists were starving the same as everyone else.” He believed that paid work was psychologically better for unemployed people than simply giving them money, and the Public Works of Art Project was established in December 1933. Over six months, $1.3 million was spent, employing 3,749 qualified artists, resulting in more than 15,000 pieces of public art.
In his 1934 report “Implications of the Public Works of Art Project,” Program Director Edward Bruce wrote, “It has, as many of the artists expressed it, broken down the wall of their isolation and brought them in touch and in line with the life of the nation.”

A few other things about Henry Allen Nord: When World War II started he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Too old to serve in combat, his mission was to help design camouflage.

He died in 1981 and is buried in Idaho Falls’ Rose Hill Cemetery along with his parents; his wife, Dorothea, and daughter, Carolyn, both of whom died in 1969; and his older brother, Lawrence, who died in 1904.