Artist Art Rosenbaum’s mural of Georgia history was the centerpiece for a reception at the University of Georgia on Monday in the Richard B. Russell Building, one of several on the UGA campus named for the late U.S. senator from Winder.
Called “Doors,” the mural was an afterthought after the big library and museum already was planned. But it now has become the Russell Building’s showcase exhibit, said William Gray Potter, UGA libraries director.
“I was rather skeptical, but in fact, it has become the symbol of the building, providing heart and meaning and life that I don’t think would be here otherwise,” Potter said to a crowd of more than 100 people.
Rosenbaum, a retired UGA art professor, worked on the mural for months, not just painting the mural, but even before that, immersing himself in Georgia history so he and library staffers could decide together exactly what and who to include in the panoramic painting.
“It’s a remarkable representation of a great storyteller,” said Gene Wright, a former student of Rosenbaum’s who now is director of UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art.
The artist’s mural rolls across turning points and important incidents in state history, including among many others Atlanta’s 1906 race riots, child laborers at a cotton mill, and the federal rural electrification program that brought electricity to farm families in the first part of the 20th century.
Some images show things not quite so important, like Gov. Lester Maddox riding his bicycle.
Dotted throughout the flowing painting are the likenesses of history-making Georgians such as Andrew Young, lynching victim Leo Frank, journalist Bill Shipp and Jimmy Carter, who became president after he left the Georgia governor’s mansion.
Shipp was one of a handful of people depicted in the painting who actually attended Monday’s reception.
The wall-sized painting, about 9 by 29 feet, is anchored by a life-sized depiction of Russell himself, leaning tall against one side of a doorway.
The door Russell’s image is painted on actually leads into a recreation of the late Senator’s office. Russell’s family donated the office, along with Russell’s personal and political papers, including his baseball card collection, to begin what is now UGA’s Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, one of three special collections housed in the Russell Building.
“I didn’t want it to be like a collage. I wanted to have a consistent time flow,” Rosenbaum told the crowd as his wife, Margo, a photographer, documented the event.
Russell lived through many of the events and movements that transformed Georgia, the United States and the world during the 20th century.
Born in 1897, he became the state’s youngest 20th-century governor in 1931 and oversaw a reorganization of state government that included the creation of the University System of Georgia.
He left the governorship in 1933 after winning an election to fill the unexpired U.S. Senate term of William J. Harris, who died.
An early supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but strongly segregationist, Russell was a mentor to Lyndon Johnson.
Before he died in 1971, Russell rose to become chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and one of the most influential men in U.S. politics.
His Senate career spanned the Great Depression, World War II, the beginning of nuclear weapons and the Space Race, the Vietnam War and the end of legal segregation in the United States.Read article on OnlineAthens.com