New Deal Art and Architecture
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Natural Resources of Northern Michigan, 1936
Carl H. Frezell (American, 1901 – 1970)
Oil on canvas, artist’s painted wood frame
Michigan State University Museum, 2nd floor Auditorium*

* Note: The Frezell mural is located in the MSU Museum auditorium, which is open during educational programs and by special arrangement. Contact museum staff to view the mural.

Originally intended for the Bessemer Courthouse boardroom in the Upper Peninsula, Natural Resources of Northern Michigan was given to Frances and Walter M. Berry sometime in the mid 1940s in appreciation for their years of local and statewide community service. The mural hung in the Caspian Community Center where Berry worked before becoming the Director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. In 1957, the Berrys donated the mural to the Michigan State University Museum, where it now hangs in the Auditorium on the second floor.

Natural Resources of Northern Michigan, 1936

Natural Resources of Northern Michigan depicts an amalgamated view of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, incorporating many of the subjects – agriculture, industry, and leisure – as well as the positive message of economic recovery that the WPA commission encouraged during the troubling years of the Great Depression. Painted in a representational style and accurately detailed, Frezell flanked the foreground image of leisure and tourism with images of the Upper Peninsula’s two main industries: Iron ore extraction and transportation on the left and logging and lumber on the right. The suspension bridge in the far upper left corner is likely Mackinac Bridge. Although the current structure was built between 1954 – 1957, engineers drew up proposals for the bridge in 1934 – 1935. Here, the bridge leads the viewer’s eye towards a distant city, drawing a relationship between the natural resources and labor of the Upper Peninsula to the urban population and the finances of the city. Although some buildings are identifiable such as the Lansing State Capital, the U.S. Capital, and the Statue of Liberty, Frezell represents a generic model city.

Kresge Art Museum