Native Village Youth and Education News
January 1, 2009 Issue 193 Volume 2



Once offensive murals to become an educational tool
by Alyson Outen

Boise, Idaho  -- They've been the target of controversy ever since they were first painted 70 years ago - murals depicting, among other things, the lynching of a Native American.

The old Ada County Courthouse is where those paintings will soon serve as an educational tool.

For years these murals were deemed so offensive, they were covered up by large flags.

Now, state leaders and tribal leaders want them not only exposed, but explained.

The building itself is a reflection of history, of our architectural roots - an art deco structure built as part of the Works Progress Administration following the Great Depression. 

Inside, the walls are covered with historical images dating back even further -- to the 1840s, to a time when cultures clashed.

"Mr. Fletcher designed all these murals during the WPA era. This was an example of something that would have been quite acceptable that time in our country's history," said Janet Gallimore.

Janet Gillamore is Executive Director of the Idaho's Historical Society.

"And, of course, we've learned over time that this type of portrayal of people is not acceptable and that over time is why this particular image got to be so controversial," said Gallimore.

At one point, that controversy lead to concealment. For a decade visitors were shielded from what was considered offensive images -- settlers accosting, then hanging a Native American.

But, once again, times have changed.  The building is now the temporary home of the Idaho Legislature, which last year decided instead of hiding the murals, they should be highlighted.

"Changes in history over time are something we value as a society and to pretend they didn't happen and make them go away would not be telling the truth," said Gallimore.

Idaho's five Indian tribes and state leaders collaborated to design interpretive plaques, and in the next couple weeks those will be installed beneath the controversial murals --  telling the story of Idaho's sometimes bloody and brutal past.

"Certainly those of us in the history business believe in the freedom history, that it is the right of people in our communities to know that history so they can learn from it and also think about how it influences their future behavior," said Gallimore.

Several of the inoffensive murals already have descriptions posted on them, but it's taken about a year's worth of collaboration to get the wording just right on the controversial murals.

The goal is to get these plaques installed before the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The murals were commissioned in 1938 and were originally designed to be mosaics.  

Mid-way through the project there was a change in artists and the current, somewhat rudimentary paintings became the finished product.

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