Birmingham Public Library
The Murals Of The Central Library

In the late 1920s, the Birmingham Library Board commissioned Ezra Winter to paint a mural series for the main reading room in the newly constructed library building. In addition, he was also asked to paint a mural depicting famous fairy tales for the children's room. The murals for both areas were executed in oils on canvas in Winter's New York studio. There were later affixed to the walls of the library with white lead, and Winter himself was present to supervise this installation.

About The Artist - Ezra Winter

Ezra Winter, the artist of BPL's murals, was born in Manistee, Michigan in 1886. Educated at Olivet College, he entered the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts at age 22. Following Graduation he studied in Europe for five years where he received the Prix de Rome. This honor entitled him to three years of study and the American Academy in Rome. Winter was originally interested in portrait painting, but after his European studies and exposure to the work of French muralists, his interest shifted to mural painting.

On his return to America, Winter embarked on a successful career as a muralist. He was commissioned by universities, theaters, businesses, libraries, and individuals. His works can be seen in New York City at the Cunard Building, the Cotton Exchange, the Guaranty Trust Building, Rockefeller Center and the Bank of Manhattan. Other works are located in the Strauss Building in Chicago, and the Library of Congress and United States Chamber of Commerce Building in Washington, D.C.

In the late 1920s, the Birmingham Library Board commissioned Winter to paint a mural series for the main reading room in the newly constructed library building. In addition, he was also asked to paint a mural depicting famous fairy tales for the children's room. The murals for both areas were executed in oils on canvas in Winter's New York studio. There were later affixed to the walls of the library with white lead, and Winter himself was present to supervise this installation.

Throughout the years, Winter's works have been acclaimed and stand triumphant in technique, design, and execution.

Video: The Artist - Ezra Winter
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.

The Murals
American: John Smith and Pocahontas

Matoaka, nicknamed Pocahontas meaning "playful", was the daughter of Powhatan, an Indian chief of Virginia. She rescued John Smith, head of Jamestown's governing council, from the wrath of her father. Later she married John Rolfe, a Jamestown settler and their marriage brought peace between the Indians and colonists for eight years. The legendary story is related in John Smith's General Histories of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles.

American Panel

Arabian: Shahryar and Shahrazad

The Thousand and One Nights, popularly known as the Arabian Nights, is a collection of otherwise unrelated stories which are unified by Shahrazad, the teller of tales. For a thousand and one nights she entertained her husband, the Sultan of Shahryar, who spared her life from one dawn to the next in order that she might continue to captivate him with her enchanting stories.

Arabian Panel

Chinese: Confucius

Confucius, the great sage of Ancient China, was both a teacher and philosopher. From the age of twenty-two until his death at the age of seventy-three. Confucius traveled among the people spreading his ideas of loyalty, righteousness and humility. He is noted for his collection and preservation of ancient Chinese literature. Since the time of the Han dynasty, the teachings of Confucius have been acknowledged and respected by the rulers of China and have formed the basis of Chinese education.

Chinese Panel

Egyptian: Isis and Ramses II

Isis, the Goddess of Love and Justice, presents a small clay figure of Truth to her godson Ramses II, who later became one of the most glorious rulers of Egypt. He was also Egypt's most famous builder, but it was his valor as a young man in the battle of Kadesh which inspired one of the world's first epic poems. This great poem was recorded on temple walls and papyrus during the reign of Ramses II.

Egyptian Panel

English: Lancelot

Lancelot, the most famous knight of King Arthur's Round Table, is depicted in English literature as the flower of chivalry. The story of Lancelot's heroic deeds, including his search of the Holy Grail, is told against the background for his illicit love for Guinevere, King Arthur's wife. Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, written in the 15th century, emphasizes the tragedy of Lancelot's imperfection, for he was otherwise the epitome of chaste knighthood.

English Panel

French: Celimene and Alceste

A scene from seventeenth century Parisian salon life is captured in Moliere's comedy play, Le Misanthrope. Alceste vows to speak and act with complete honesty and no longer adhere to the conventions of a hypocritical society. He is in love with the vain coquette Celimene who presides over the salon and represents all that he detests. Before Alceste will marry Celimene, he demands that she give up her role in society. When she refuses, Alceste is forced to depart alone.

French Panel

German: Faust and Margaret

The legendary figure of Faust has his foundation in the historical person, Dr. Faustus, a magician and charlatan of the early sixteenth century. In the famous German dramatic poem by Goethe, Faust promises his soul to Mephistopheles in order to realize his ambitious thirst for knowledge and experience. His destiny is linked to the trusting Margaret whom he seduces and later sees destroyed. In spite of his evil nature, Faust's soul is eventually saved by a choir of heavenly spirits.

German Panel

Greek: Bellerophon and Pegasus

Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, stands ready to be ridden by Bellerophon, the poet who captured him with a magic bridle, the gift of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. According to legend, it is from the hoofprint of Pegasus on Mount Helicon that the Muses' fountain of inspiration sprang. Pegasus eventually flew to heaven to take his place among the constellations.

Greek Panel

Hebrew: David

David, the Hebrew shepherd lad, saved his people through courage and faith in his God when he defeated the Philistine giant, Goliath. A gifted musician, David composed the Psalms of the Old Testament which he sang to soothe the troubled mind of Saul, King of Israel. These beautiful passages are recognized as one of the rich gifts of the Hebrew people to the literature of the world.

Hebrew Panel

Hindu: Krishna and Radha

Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, is the hero of the Bhagavata Purana, a Hindu sacred text of the tenth century. Part of the work tells of Krishna's adventures among the cow herds of Vrindavana and his love for their wives and daughters. In one tale, he attracts the village milkmaids to the forest with his enchanting flute music. Radha, whose husband bound her and refused to let her go, abandoned her body and reached Krishna first, thus exemplifying the popular idea of love.

Hindu Panel

Italian: Dante and Virgil

Two great poets meet in Dante's major work, The Divine Comedy. Lost in the Wood of Error on Good Friday, 1300 A.D., Dante is met by Virgil's spirit who manifests the highest knowledge attainable. To free Dante from temptation, Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory where their journey together ends because man alone, without grace, can go no further. There, Dante meets Beatrice, who represents divine revelation, and she conducts him through Paradise to God.

Italian Panel

Japanese: Otohime and Ura-Shima Ta-ro

Ura-Shima Ta-ro, a fisherlad, finds a tortoise on the beach and throws it back into the sea. For his thoughtfulness, he is taken to the palace of the Sea King and marries his daughter, Otohime. After the marriage, Ura-Shima Ta-ro opens a casket given him by his bride. A white cloud, the symbol of time, escapes and surrounds Ura-Shima Ta-ro, whereupon he becomes an old man and dies. This tale is preserved in the Man'yoshu which means Ten Thousand Leaves.

Japanese Panel

Persian: Sadi

Sadi, an early Persian poet and philosopher, is the author of the Gulistan, translated in English as the Rose Garden. Sadi considered his beautifully written fragments of thought to be rose petals saved for his friends from the gardens of his meditations. Born in Shira in 1292 A.D., Sadi was immensely popular because of his deep understanding of human nature and his simple lucid style.

Persian Panel

Russian: Igor

The legend of Igor Svatoslavic, a young Novgorod-Severesk prince, is celebrated in the earliest known Russian epic, The Tale of Igor's Campaign. His exploits during 1185 A.D. against the Polovtsian nomads of the south are recounted in this epic. The original manuscript was burned during the Moscow Fire of 1812, but a second copy was found among Catherine the Great's papers.

Russian Panel

Scandinavian: Sigurd and Brynhild

The mythological story of Sigurd and Brynhild is narrated in the Second Edda by Snorri Sturleson (1178-1241 A.D.). This Icelandic tale reappears in German literature as the Niebelungenlied and is performed as the opera, Der Ring des Niebelungen. Sigurd, a renowed dragonslayer, becomes the hero as he and his mount, Grani, ride through a wall of fire to rescue Brynhild and awaken her from her enchanted sleep imposed upon her by King Odin.

Scandinavian Panel

Spanish: Don Quixote

The early 17th century work, Don Quixote, was conceived while its author, Cervantes, was in prison. the novel displays a panoramic view of Spanish society while satirizing the exaggerated chivalric romances of the day. Don Quixote de la Mancha, with his squire Sancho Panza, sets out to right the world's wrongs. Deluded by his imagination, however, Don Quixote jousts with windmills instead of knights and battles armies of sheep instead of men.

Spanish Panel

Page Last Modified: 1/21/2014 12:20 PM