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New Deal/WPA Art in Toledo, Ohio

The public library in Toledo, Ohio (built by the WPA) is home to a unique W.P.A. mural made out of Vitrolite glass. Under the supervision of Frank Sohn, these murals were made in the Libbey Owens Ford Company factory in Parkersburg, WV. (information provided by Rebecca Corbitt Beckett whose uncle, Charles Corbitt, worked at the WV factory).

Installed in 1939 as a W.P.A. project in the Central Court (first floor), the Children’s Room (second floor), and the Story Hour Room (second floor; done by artist Anna L. Thorne), these murals are sectile mosaics composed of more than 80 different colors.

A Vitrolite mural was also installed in the Forum Cafeteria,
64 W. Madison St., Chicago, IL
but was destroyed in a fire in 1973.However, the Minneapolis, MN Forum Cafeteria still has its vitrolite mural intact (history of the Forum)

There is also an aluminum and limestone relief done in 1940 by Anthony Vezech. It still adorns the 325 N. Michigan building entrance.

The Toledo-Lucas Co. Library is currently under construction. The glass murals in Toledo are covered over with insulation in order to protect them during construction of the new library building and will not be available for public viewing until 2002.



Toledo Zoo

The Toledo Zoo is home to several works done under the Federal Art Program. Among the artists who contributed to the FAP zoo murals and backdrops are Woody La Plante, Paul Breisach, Myron Plant, and Fritz Boehmer. In the 1970s, a number of the zoo murals were destroyed due to a “redecorating” decision. In recent years before his death, Mr. LaPlante worked at restoring his own WPA murals! Mr. La Plante was only 19 years old when he worked for the WPA. There is a biography of Mr. La Plante at website as well as an article about the late Mr. La Plante.

There are WPA sculptures and murals at the Toledo Zoo. From 1934-36, Arthur Cox contributed several sculptures to the Zoo – a Dolphin water fountain, the Bison, Elephant, Reptilia, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops. Originally these sculptures were placed in front of the mural backdrops installed in the Reptile House.

The murals in the Aviary Building were done by Woody LaPlante.

Today, the Cox sculptures are easily accessible outside
and a favorite “ride”
of the visiting children.

Currently only the Reptilia sculpture is missing. Various examples of Arthur Cox’s sculpture can be viewed at The Sculpture Center, Ohio Outdoor Sculpture page



Howard Ickes created a 60′ in length mural for the University of Toledo library, entitled “History of Toledo.” In Navarre Park, Jess DeVinney made a handmade iron gate and marker for the Peter Navarre cabin. Apparently this cabin has been moved in recent years to the Crosby Gardens on Elmer Drive.



Undoubtably one of the most interesting New Deal works of art was the 3 panel oil on canvas mural entitled “Battle of Lake Erie” by Paul Breisach. Originally it was installed in the top floor Officer’s Ward Room at the Bayview Naval Armory built by the WPA. It was subsequently moved to Camp Perry for storage, then finally donated to the National Park Service in 1994 which installed it in the Lake Erie Islands Historical Museum, 441 Catawba Avenue, Put-in-Bay, Ohio where it is still on display. Photos of the exhibits room at the museum show the mural in its current location. Please call the museum for hours and dates of operation (419-285-2804).



Other WPA projects (non-art program) include the construction of the Glass Bowl and Scott Hall, both at the University of Toledo, and two hospitals. The Ottawa Park Amphitheater was completed by the WPA in 1937. It was constructed of locally quarried limestone. Restoration was completed in 2002.