Libraries’ Runquist murals get fresh look

Maruska is overseeing an art project on the Libraries' Runquist murals
Maruska is overseeing an art project on the Libraries' Runquist murals

Two sprawling murals that have been with UO Libraries since its opening in 1937 are getting a second look.

The Digital Scholarship Center and UO Libraries have launched an art project on murals by Oregon artists Albert and Arthur Runquist that depict figures and ideas about race and ethnicity that some may no longer find acceptable.

“The Runquist Project: A Response to Two Murals” seeks to put the murals in context, recognize the value and history of the murals while creating a dialogue and facilitating responses from community members.

“These murals have been in the library since its opening, but today the messages present in the pieces might not be found in artwork chosen for public spaces,” said Brittney Maruska, a graduate student in arts management who is overseeing the project. “The murals raise important questions about the retention and display of monuments and artwork in public settings that we may no longer see as worthy of celebration.”

The Runquist brothers were Northwest artists who came to represent early 20th century artwork in the region. They were born in South Bend, Washington, attended the UO and spent much of their lives painting on the Oregon Coast.

The brothers’ pieces show a deep connection to the people and landscapes of this area, with depictions of domestic life, landscapes and examinations of nature. The two had a very similar style, even co-painting at times.

The murals are located in the east and west stairwells that connect the lobby of the library to Special Collections and University Archives. Part of the Work Progress Administration’s Art Project that employed artists and generated artwork all over the nation, the pieces portray the development of arts and sciences.

The project solicits responses to the murals in any form that can be digitally displayed on the project’s website. That could include written, visual or musical interpretations, for example.

Artists and participants are invited to explore the murals, learn more about them and the artists and to create responses. There is also the possibility of additional displays of artwork.

All work should be submitted via digital images, docs and pdfs to

-- Photo and story by Matt Cooper, Office of Strategic Communications