Gerald Mast

Gerald mast, Clare Middle School Murals, 1938, Right Central Panel of Four, Clare, Michigan

Born in Topeka, Indiana, in 1908, Gerald Mast was a painter, graphic artist, designer and educator. He studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, and at Detroit’s School of Arts and Crafts, under modernist painter and educator John Carroll, who was associated with the Ash Can school artists. As an educator, Mast taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and was a Professor at the College of Architecture and Design of the University of Michigan at Grand Rapids from 1948 until his death in 1971. 

Gerald Mast was a member of the Works Progress Administration,   a New Deal federal agency which, from 1936 to 1943, carried out public works projects from building and road construction to public art projects. He produced murals for the Franklin Settlement in Detroit; the Bronkema Center in Grand Rapids; and the Harrick Public Library in Holland, Michigan. Executed in 1938 at the Detroit Institute of the Arts over a period of two years, his best known murals  are the four large panels installed in the now Middle School of Clare, Michigan. 

Mast’s four large, vertical panels, each twenty feet in height by eight feet in width, are installed on the north wall of Clare Middle School’s auditorium. The murals show agriculture, academics, the local trades, and the oil and gas industry, all of which were unique to the area when Mast arrived to complete his work; these mural received restoration in 2004. 

The two outer murals in the auditorium are dominated by a woman on the left panel and a man on the right panel. The nude woman,  holding a sheet in front of her, is standing before scenes of prosperous agriculture; the nude man, also holding a sheet, is seen standing before scenes of buildings and oil wells. The right central panel depicts scientists in front of classical thinkers. The left central panel depicts athletes, musicians, children, and nurses, with farmers and agricultural goods in the foreground. All of the subjects in the murals display unsmiling, grim determination.

Gerald Mast exhibited his work at the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1943 to 1963; the Great Lakes Exhibiton of 1938; the Rhode Island School of Design; Indianapolis’ Herron Art Institute from 1930 to 1964; and the National Ecclesiastical Exhibition in Birmingham, Michigan, among others. Executed under the WPA program, Gerald Mast’s 1938 ceramic sculpture, “Sea Nymph” is installed at the University of Michigan. 

Gerald Mast died on August 10, 1971 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Smithsonian Museum’s Archives of American Art contains his correspondence and writings, family photographs, several sketchbooks and loose sketches, exhibition catalogues, and writings, which include his manuscripts for “Egg Tempera” and “Philosophy of Art”. 

Insert Image: Gerald Mast, Untitled, 1964, Lithograph on Paper, Edition of 35, Private Collection

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