In 1934, as part of a local Public Works Art Project, three Houston area artists were commissioned to paint murals in the Houston Public Library (HPL) building. The murals found on the first and second floors of the Julia Ideson Building now constitute the largest collection of depression-era murals found in the city of Houston. This triptych, or three piece set, found in our first floor hallway depict Spanish scenes and symbols painted by artist Angela McDonnell of Galveston. In 1930, Miss McDonnell had obtained passage on a cargo ship leaving Houston and ended up in Barcelona, Spain. Her two years in Spain influenced her future work, as you can see in the three pictures above.
On the left, Avila, the Excuses for Conquest, depicts the Castilian Spanish re-conquest of the Andalusian peninsula in 1492. She has illustrated both sides of the struggle represented by the Spanish and Moorish warriors in this section.
In the Center, La Rabida, Cradle of the New World introduces us to Father Juan Perez who lived in the monastery La Rabida seen on the top of the hill in this mural. Father Perez was instrumental in facilitating the financing for Christopher Columbus’ trip by Queen Isabella of Spain. The men are shown on either side of the coat of arms of Queen Isabella.
On the right, Toledo, Art and Literature in Spain McDonnell chose the city of Toledo, known for its metallurgy and swords, but focused instead on art and literature. She depicts the bridge of Alcantara and the castle of San Fernando suggesting the picturesque life of old Spain and represents its art and literature by the figures of El Greco and Don Quixote.
To the left of the three murals, you can see the six portraits of the Houston Public Library Directors. Since it opened its doors the Houston Public Library has been blessed with long-serving Directors with a strong vision for the future of the Library. The six Library Directors are Julia Ideson (1903-1945), Martha Schnitzer (Acting Librarian 1945-1948, Director 1948-1949), Harriet Dickson Reynolds (1950-1967), David M. Hennington (1967-1995), Barbara Gubbin (1995-2004), and the current Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, who began in 2005.