1948 Wisconsin State Fair Mural
History of the 1948 Wisconsin State Fair Murals
How the murals came to be
To commemorate Wisconsin’s centennial, 1948 State Fair planners envisioned an ambitious presentation covering 100 years of agricultural progress. They commissioned a group of Wisconsin artists to create two massive mural scenes to anchor a 21,000 square foot display entitled "From Cradle to Combine."
Each scene was to represent a different century of farming. A total of 14 murals were painted. Eight murals depicted an 1848 scene; six murals depicted a contemporary 1948 scene.
Each mural was designed to stand alone as well as be a part of a scene. Each included as many field operations as possible including cultivating corn, making hay, harvesting grain, and weed control. In one 1948 mural, the newly emerging practice of soil conservation was featured.
Installation at the State Fair
When installed at the fair, the exhibit spanned 400 linear feet of display space and measured 12 feet high (5,000 square feet). Each individual mural was 28 feet in length. The mural scenes were installed back-to-back.
In front of the murals, costumed interpreters demonstrated early pioneer farming practices on the 1848 side of the exhibit, and modern buildings and machinery on the 1948 side.
Hundreds of thousands of people filed through Agricultural Hall to observe the recreation of Wisconsin agriculture at the peak of its growing season.
Once the exposition ended, the murals came down, and the memories faded.
Nearly 50 Years Later
Nearly 50 years later, nine of the original 14 murals were discovered rolled up and tucked away in Old Youth Dormitory in Wisconsin State Fair Park.
Lead artist Robert Hodgell, retired and living in Florida, visited State Fair Park as the murals were unrolled for the first time in perhaps decades. To the delight of those present, the murals were structurally sound but needed restorative treatment.
Wisconsin’s Kohler Foundation funded the conservation treatment and gifted the murals to the Wisconsin Historical Society. They are currently stored in the collections storage building at Old World Wisconsin. The murals may be the largest ever painted in Wisconsin
The next step was to find new and innovative ways to share these treasures with you. The likelihood of completely recreating the mural scenes—as assembled at the 1948 State Fair — is low given that five murals remain missing and the overall volume of space required.
With this online exhibition, these beautiful murals and their stories about Wisconsin history are available to anyone at any time.