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Prometheus

Prometheus mural by José Clemente Orozco

The Prometheus mural by José Clemente Orozco is located in Frary Dining Hall.

Where can you go to eat your breakfast cereal beneath a priceless work of art?

Frary Dining Hall, home of the famous Prometheus fresco by noted José Clemente Orozco--one of "los tres grandes," the three great Mexican muralists. Where else?

Completed in 1930, not long after the construction of Frary Dining Hall itself, Prometheus represents the Greek myth of the Titan who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to mankind, an act for which he was roundly punished by a vengeful Zeus. Since the fire of Prometheus is traditionally understood to symbolize wisdom and enlightenment--an apt metaphor for the task of a liberal arts college--the mural depicts Prometheus at the moment in which the fire is captured and brought to earth.

During this time period, the choice of Orozco as the artist to carry out this fresco was a courageous one, since his expressionist style broke with the traditional decorative mural conventions of the time. Promised $5,000 for the commission, his first mural in the United States, Orozco was told, mistakenly, that the funds were already in hand. He arrived in March 1930 to begin work, only to discover that less than a thousand dollars had been raised (mostly from Pomona students). Shaken by the news, he decided nonetheless that he had come too far to consider withdrawing. "Do you still have the wall?" he is said to have asked. Assured that there was indeed a wall, he was also invited to live in Clark Hall and take his meals in Frary, beneath the eyes of his evolving creation. Fundraising continued, and Orozco was eventually paid about $2,500 for his work.

With enthusiastic student support, the mural was finally completed in mid-June 1930. The skill with which Orozco had scaled the composition to its architectural environment was particularly applauded. In a Time magazine interview in 1930, Frary architect Sumner Spaulding was asked how he liked the mural and he responded: “I feel as though the building would fall down if the fresco were removed.”

Frary is also home to a second significant mural: Rico Lebrun’s Genesis (1960), which is located on the west wall of the building’s entrance portico. The piece explores what Lebrue called ‘the evolution of form, of becoming,” through the Biblical story of Genesis. The large mural was an ideal vehicle for expressing the artist’s belief that reality is a complex interweaving of ideas, an inextricable blending of opposites, where good and evil coexist side by side.

Both murals are now under the care of the Pomona College Museum of Art. Note: Some of this information was gleaned and quoted from Pomona College: Reflections on a Campus.