Youth Helps Rebuild a World: John Steuart Curry's last work

John Stuart Curry: Youth Helps Rebuild a World in West Bend

by Graeme Reid, Assistant Director, Museum of Wisconsin Art

"Youth Helps Rebuild a World", John Stuart Curry, 7'2" x 25'10"
It was a race against time. In August 1946, John Steuart Curry, ailing from years of battling with cancer, struggled to complete his last work: a mural called Youth Helps Rebuild a World for a livestock barn at the Wisconsin Sate Fair Park in West Allis. Painted with the assistance of R.O. Hodgell, it is a grandly optimistic work in keeping with the artist’s fundamental beliefs. On the left, are young people together with cows and a horse, being directed to the right by a central figure who gestures towards the war-ravaged smoldering ruins of Europe. The optimistic message, despite Curry’s own bleak situation, is that the future should be placed in the hands of the younger generation. Ten days after the mural was installed, Curry died.

Although Kansas-born, Curry’s impact on the arts in Wisconsin was profound. In 1936 he was appointed artist-in-residence by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to fulfill several roles: be a roving artist available to help and instruct in artistic matters as required, act as a mentor for the newly formed Wisconsin Rural Art Program – a cohort of largely self-taught artists comprised of teachers, blacksmiths, mail carriers, farmers and housewives residing in various small agricultural communities around the state – and paint murals that reflected current agricultural subjects.

Youth Helps Rebuild a World is a stellar example of this directive: monumental in size (it measures 7’ 2” x 25’ 10”), progressive in spirit and deeply empathetic to rural Wisconsin. It is currently owned by the Helen W. Schultz Revocable Trust and was conserved over eight months by Anton (Tony) Rajer. A tremendous addition to the exhibition is the mural’s preparatory watercolor sketch on loan from Keichel Fine Art in Lincoln, Nebraska. This will be the first time in almost 60 years that the two works have been together. Both will be on display at the Museum of Wisconsin Art through fall 2008.��