Blog post by Randi Richardson
Art in and around Bloomington is available in abundance; some of the oldest art, freely and readily accessed by the public, is that in the courthouse dome. It is the work of Gustav Adolph Brand (1862-1944).
County commissioners and a committee of Bloomington citizens composed of Henry Gentry, J. D. Showers, Fred Matthews and Father Bogemann considered four companies from four states before awarding the contract for “art glass and decoration of the Monroe County courthouse” to Gustav A. Brand and Company of Chicago in November 1907. The contracted amount was $6,000 which in today’s economy would be about $170,000.
Soon after the contract was let, the three companies not selected hired Bloomington Attorney Robert G. Miller to contest the bid because it was not the lowest bid, was not accompanied by an affidavit of noncollusion and did not comply with the plans and specifications outlined. Although documentation of the suit has yet to be discovered, clearly it was resolved in Brand’s favor.
Of particular interest in connection with Brand’s decorations were four large, oil-on-canvas murals, each measuring about eight feet high by sixteen feet long, to grace to rotunda. Each mural had a different theme, each representing a special facet of Bloomington and Monroe County: the Stone Industry, Justice, Education and Agriculture.
As the years passed the luster of the new courthouse dimmed. And after several decades the community outgrew the courthouse. By then the murals were in terrible condition–cracked, faded, badly water damaged and partially covered with wall paint by careless contractors working on scaffolding three stories high. Perhaps they were more worried about a misstep that could plunge them to their death than careful detailing around the murals.
There was talk of razing the courthouse, and in an effort to save it renovations were made. Sometime in the 1980s, the murals were removed because there was no money in the budget to repair them. While the country considered ways to pay for the needed restoration, the murals were stored in the gymnasium of the Brown School in Washington Township which had closed in 1984. In the winter of that year, Bill Cook purchased the school to use as headquarters of the Star of Indiana.
Once the murals were discovered, Gayle Cook, Bill’s wife, took it upon herself both physically and financially, to lead the efforts to restore the murals. Not a small undertaking. At a cost of $70,000, the four murals were sent to the Conrad Schmitt Studio in Milwaukee in early 1993. Funding was provided by a number of sources including Bill and Gayle Cook’s contributions to the Save the Courthouse Fund, the county’s Courthouse Renovation Fund and the county’s cumulative capital fund.
Once the restoration was complete, the four murals were re-installed inside the dome replete with a ceremony on November 12, 1993. If you have not already seen the murals, it would be worth your time to do so.
- Contract for Courthouse Decoration Awarded, Bedford (IN) Weekly Mail, November 15, 1907, p. 1.
- Att. Robert G. Miller Brings Suit to Contest Letting of Contract to Gustav Brand, Bedford (IN) Weekly Mail, November 15, 1907, p. 3.
- Hammel, Bob, The Bill Cook Story: Ready, Fire, Aim! (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press) 2008, pp. 227-228.
- David Thompson, “Courthouse Murals Returning to View,” Bloomington Herald-Times, November 3, 1993, p. A1. NOTE: This article includes two nice photos of work being done on the murals.
- Cook, William A. and Jim Mason, Star of Indiana: Recollections. Available online at www.oocities.org/marchingresearch/coosym95.txt,
- Monroe County Retired Teachers, Echoes from One-Room Schools, Monroe County, Indiana (Monroe County, IN: AuthorHouse), 2006, p. 406.