Log mural uncovered for campus consideration and discussion

April 20, 2016 by Caitlin Ubl, Staff Writer

The Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History uncovered the mural in the Log for consideration. Emory Strawn/Photo Editor.

The Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History uncovered the mural in the Log for consideration. Emory Strawn/Photo Editor.

Yesterday, a statement included in Daily Messages announced that the mural in the Black Room at the Log was uncovered last Monday to “provide an opportunity for the campus community to view and consider it.” As Karen Merrill, chair of the history department, former dean of the College and head of the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History, said, “The goal of uncovering the mural now is to reopen the dialogue.” After removing the plywood, a timeline was also added to give relevant information on the history of the mural, hoping to provide some of the background the committee had acquired over the course of its research into its history.

On Dec. 1, the College community received an email from President Adam Falk addressing controversy over the mural at the Log. The mural in question depicts some British colonists, members of the Mohawk tribe, Ephraim Williams and Theyanoguin, known by colonists at the time as “Chief Hendrick.” He was one of the most notable Native American political leaders in the colonies on the eve of the French and Indian War.

In the email, Falk appointed the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History. This committee included Joe Cruz ’91, professor of philosophy, Katarzyna Pieprzak, professor and chair of Romance languages, David L. Smith, professor of English, Keli Gail, secretary of the college, Ferentz Lafargue, director of the Davis Center, Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Rick Spalding, chaplain to the college and Leila Jere ’91, president of the Society of Alumni. These faculty and staff members were joined by three students selected in consultation with College Council and the Minority Coalition. The committee was tasked with going beyond the mural in question to address how matters of art, memorial and decoration depicting the past can contribute to the College’s history and inclusivity. In his email, Falk instructed that the mural “be temporarily covered while the committee considers the larger questions with which it is charged,” asserting, “covering it now is not intended to be a prejudgment – of any kind – of the committee’s eventual recommendations, which we anticipate in due course.”

After a well-attended, thought-provoking forum in December, three more students were added to the committee to better represent student interests and articulate a clearer and more diverse campus voice. “It has enhanced the process so much to have more students on the committee – they have all been tremendous and represent more points of view on the campus than there would’ve been if there had just been three,” Merrill said.

Over the course of the semester, the committee consulted Doug Kiel, professor of American studies, and Annie Valk, professor of history and associate director for public humanities through the Center for Leaning in Action. For most of its history, the Log was primarily an alumni space, and the committee has therefore received extensive input from alumni on the matter as well. It also conducted extensive research on the mural and the history of the Log, identifying three dates for careful examination: the date of the event being depicted (1755), the date it was painted (1942) and the date in which discussion is taking place (now).

A student-driven and student-led forum will be held on Sunday, April 24 at 7 p.m. in Goodrich Hall to determine the campus’s pulse on the issue. The committee will release its recommendations to President Falk by the end of the semester and will at the same time also make them available to the entire College community.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

We know better? April 23, 2016 at 9:03 am

In 1941 young men who were considering World War II commissioned this mural. Most would go and fight. Some would not return. Their names are enshrined in the mortar of the chapel. We should all stop by from time to time, to look at them.

Now, we say we must banish their depiction from our “safe spaces.” As if we have captured some ethical superiority in our manner of thinking?

Our we so much better than they were? Are we better than those depicted? Are we better than Chief Hendrick and our founder Colonel Williams who would die in the “Bloody Morning Scout” later that day, in 1755?

“The British force had barely set out from the Fort when they found themselves in a trap. It would have been much worse for the British had not the Indians started firing prematurely. Soon, King Hendrick was dead, followed by Col. Williams himself, who was shot in the head.” http://www.historiclakes.org/wm_henry/lg_battle.html

What were the young Ephs who commissioned this mural thinking about in 1941? I have my doubts that we hold the moral position to pass judgment, and banish the designs they left for us to a bright corner in a museum.

Perhaps the point those young Ephs from 1941 were trying to make, is that there really are no “safe spaces”?

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Benevolous April 23, 2016 at 10:05 am

Agreed—the brave choices of those who fought for our freedom to have this discussion should be honored: the alliance of Chief Hendrick and Colonel Williams and the Williams students of 1941-2 who were inspired to honor them. To decide now that those choices were dishonorable encourages future committees to dishonor the brave choices made by any Williams student.

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Anon April 23, 2016 at 2:04 pm

Why was this covered up again? It seems to be an accurate depiction that marks important moments in history- for both the date of the production (1942) as well as the significance of Hendricks and Williams in local history.

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Benevolous April 23, 2016 at 3:24 pm

The simplest explanation is political correctness—the authoritarian impulse to correct anything that disagrees with certain political beliefs.

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Anonymous April 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Benevolous- When are the adults in the room going to put an end to this? You want to go to the best liberal arts college in the world, you want to be treated as an adult, but you cannot stand to be around artifacts of history on its campus? You want to be a liberal arts leader, and you cannot defend the importance of history? The importance of art? You must designate a committee to consider the removal of historical artifacts because said artifacts may offend someone?

What political beliefs? The belief that people do not die in war or something? The belief that this event should have never happened, and therefore we should pretend that the founder of the college an the town was not killed in combat with a native American who was a long time friend and ally?

I am not sure how banishment of previous Ephs’ work “corrects” the past? Also, I am not sure if we gain anything by picking on World War Two Ephs- by denying that generation at war legitimacy and relegating their artwork as if it were some unfashionable “incorrect” trend?

Why is the artwork “offensive”? Why is it that we must cover it, or put it in a museum, or destroy it? Depictions of factual history in common spaces are now too much for us? It is not enough to be a scholar and a critic- we need to be deniers and destroyers? At Williams?

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Benevolous April 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Your questions are the right ones to ask, although it is far from clear that these are the primary questions to be considered by the committee. And it is indeed time for the responsible adults at Williams to correct the things that truly need correction—the question is which thing should be corrected first? The illiberal impulse of students who will all too eagerly reject things they do not fully understand because they feel offended or the authoritarian impulse of administrators who will all too eagerly placate those students without regard for truth?

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Ivar Kronick '91 April 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

I would not begrudge the original veterans who sponsored this mural, but I am interested in identifying the artist. What’s the name? Otherwise, I propose replacing it with my own version, same spirit. I offer my services as a painter with training at the Repin Institute of Art (www . artsacademy.ru/). We do have a piece of plywood that perfectly fits the space.

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