This paper focuses on the creation and the reception of the mural The Evolution of Justice, painted at the Cedar Rapids courthouse as a larger mural in 1936-37 by the Iowan artist Everett Jeffrey. Iowan artists and society were involved in an avant-garde art project, in ways that have not been fully acknowledged, given that the murals were displayed in a public setting.
The mural depicts a progression from frontier justice to the 20th century justice system in Iowa. Most controversial at the time and afterwards was the fact that the mural graphically illustrated “frontier justice,” that is, the lynching of a lone figure, shown at the left of the mural. The mural cannot be seen “in person” today because it is still covered with a whitewash coating. Funding has been collected to uncover other murals in the next few years.
The historical, cultural, and political importance of this mural cycle spans over five decades. Grant Wood and his Regionalist style, dominated discussions of Iowan art at this time, but this paper will show an alternate path, shaped by the many socio-cultural factors that played into the making of the Jeffrey’s mural at this time, such as the beginnings of the civil rights movement, the Works Progress Administration patronage, and the influence of Mexican artists at this time in the United States.
While I cannot write from the still-covered work itself, this thesis is based on black and white photographs that were taken during the years it was visible, as well extensive research in journals, archives, and accounts of the mural-making project across Iowa.
Andrea Rodriguez, ’14
Major: Art History
Sponsor: Ellen Hoobler