‘On The Map’ discovers hidden masterpieces in Clare

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A piece of history – actually four pieces of history – are hidden, in plain sight, on the walls of the Clare Middle School.

Four giant murals adorn the walls of the Clare Middle School auditorium, and they have been there since 1938 when the building was the high school.

As you walk into the auditorium, to the left are the 20-foot high murals. The first depicts the agriculture industry with a “pioneer mother” watching over workers on a farm.

The second shows students engaging in common 1930’s activities, including sports, games, and band.

The third one depicts a classroom, where students are completing an assignment. And the last mural represents the gas and oil industry, with a father figure watching from above.

Rob Burg is an independent historian from Crawford County.

“During the 1930’s, during the depression, the WPA or Works Progress Administration hired a lot of artists throughout the United States to do artwork within public facilities, post offices where they are most familiar with doing work in but also in other types of public buildings such as schools which is the case in Clare with the murals there that George Mast did.”

Closeup of the Pioneer Mother.

Closeup of the Pioneer Mother.

The murals reflect life at that time, with themes of agriculture, student activities education, and the oil and gas industry.

“Kind of a mixture of back in 1938, 39 what was big. Obviously going to school was big at least until the 8th grade, and continuing education and the oil industry.”

That’s Steve Newkirk, principal of the middle school.

Newkirk says the paintings were restored in the 1980’s, but no other work can be done on the auditorium with the paintings remaining on the wall.

“We’ve added area to the stage and the drama teacher makes sure the curtains are clean, make sure everything’s set up but as far as- the only renovations that’s happened in there since I’ve been here 10 years as a principal, is we’ve updated the sound system.”

He says even with the significance of the murals, they are, in a way, under-appreciated.

“The students, the staff, myself, I think we take them for granted at times. They’re there. We don’t use the auditorium a whole lot so it’s not the students, they’re not exposed a lot to the murals. We use it for plays, the high school does plays in there, but most of our assemblies, most of our gatherings are done in the new gym. So exposing them to the murals is not a priority I guess and that’s maybe sad.”

In 2008, the paintings were appraised with an estimated value of over 30 million dollars. That number could have gone up significantly in 7 years.

Rob Burg has his own insight as to the value of the murals.

“We look at it as historians, as the intrinsic value, which is sometimes priceless to a community.”

To date, they have not been insured, Mr. Newkirk says, because they are technically owned by the Federal Government, even though no one has any official paperwork on file.

The papers were either never done, or have been lost within the century. He says he’s sure the school can not sell them or remove them from the walls, but is not certain who own the “owner” of the murals is.

They’re a unique piece of history that certainly help put Clare ‘On The Map.’