Birmingham Public Library
East Lake Mural - Storybook Mural
East Lake Mural

In 1937, the East Lake Branch was chosen to house the acclaimed Storybook Mural by Birmingham artist Carrie Hill.  It was commissioned by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The WPA paid for the time and work of the artist while the Library paid for the canvas and paint.  The 27'x 9' foot canvas mural depicts such characters as Little Red Riding Hood, Little Miss Muffett, Mother Goose and the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.  The characters appear to be stepping out of a storybook and walking down a path similar to the "yellow brick road" in the Wizard of Oz.  The artist, Carrie Hill, used her own likeness for the face of Mother Goose.

In the mid 1970's, fire and water damaged the 1937 mural located in the Children's Reading Room.  John Bertalan, a Birmingham art conservator, restored the mural in 1993.

About the Artist

Carrie Hill was born in Vance, Alabama, in 1875. She had an appreciation for art at an early age, and was motivated to pick up a brush after watching a stranded train passenger paint the scenery to pass the time.

Hill moved with her family to Birmingham when she was sixteen, and right away sought the city's artists for instruction. She studied with Rose Lewis at the Paul Hayne School and with Caroline Lovell at the Birmingham Art School, which was located on the third floor of the Loveman, Joseph, & Loeb building on 3rd Avenue North. In 1899 she began teaching art at the school. In 1901 Hill and a fellow artist opened their own studio in the Commercial Club Building. To supplement this salary, she worked as a shop clerk and bookkeeper. Hill joined the Birmingham Art Club in 1908, and in April of that year she entered six Florida landscapes in its first exhibition.

Preferring to paint floral subjects and landscapes to figural paintings and portraits, Hill enrolled at Arthur Freedlander's "plein air" (French for "in the open air") school on Martha's Vineyard in 1912. On her return to Birmingham that same year, she opened a studio in the Hood Building on 4th Avenue North, and in 1913 presented an exhibition of Birmingham landscapes. In 1917 Hill moved her studio to Five Points South and lived, worked, and taught there for the next forty-seven years.

In 1922 Hill resumed her studies with impressionist painter George Elmer Browne of Provincetown, Massachusetts, and toured France and the Mediterranean with him, where she became interested in the paintings of Paul Cezanne. One of the paintings she created under Browne's tutelage—The Hillside—was admitted to the American Painters and Sculptors exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

By 1927 Hill had gathered many honors from juried exhibitions. She had works in New York's Babcock Galleries exhibition; won a gold medal for Little Chapel in Cahors in Mississippi Art Association's exhibition; had two of her paintings selected for the Exposition Officielle des Beaux-Arts by the Société des Artistes Français; and had a painting displayed at the National Academy of Design in New York. In 1931 thirty-six of her works were exhibited in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts' first anniversary show.

Hill donated numerous paintings to schools and other public institutions because she believed that art's spiritual and aesthetic nature improved society. Her push for the promotion and study of fine art and the establishment of a public collection became the basis for the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Hill was one of four Alabama artists to receive commissions through the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression. She painted murals for the East Lake Library and a school in Jasper. Hill continued to paint and teach into her later years. She died in 1957. The Alabama Art League established the Carrie Hill Memorial Award for landscape painting in her honor.  

Video: The Artist - Carrie Hill

An excerpt from "Artists on Relief--The Men and Women Behind Birmingham's Murals." Speaker: Graham Boettcher, Curator of American Art, Birmingham Museum of Art.

November 3, 2010 Birmingham Public Library

Page Last Modified: 12/13/2017 2:39 PM