With an awe-inspiring arched ceiling, walls of books ranging from Italian dictionaries to the Qur’an and the impressive stained glass windows above the entrance, there’s no shortage of artistic inspiration for students cranking out a term paper in the Hatcher Graduate Library Reference Room.
In addition, two massive paintings adorn the two end walls of the Reference Room, each work of art fitting into the arched shape of the ceiling.
But students curious about the figures and images in the murals are left guessing –– there are no descriptions in the Reference Room for the paintings. So what, then, are those two huge works of art?
As it turns out, the oil-on-canvas paintings are titled “The Arts of Peace” and “The Arts of War,” and were originally created for the Manufactures and Liberal arts building at the World’s Columbian Exposition, also called The Chicago World’s Fair, held in 1893.
Gari Melchers, a Detroit born artist, created the two works. Melcher would go on to paint murals for the Library of Congress and the Detroit Public Library.
According to the World Colombian Exposition, in “The Arts of Peace,” “Every figure seems bent on acquiring knowledge. Even the mother takes time from the care of her babe and becomes an interested listener to words of wisdom. The student, the philosopher, the sage, the maiden and the youth are all represented as worshippers at the shrine of knowledge.”
In “The Arts of War,” “the hunters are returning,” the World Colombian Exposition says. Every figure shows the strong characteristics and muscular development caused by constant exercise and endurance,” the same source says.
In response to a request from then-University President James Angell, the executive committee of the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago agreed in 1895 to give the two paintings to the University.
In 1896, the University Board of Regents accepted the paintings and had them placed on either side of the stage in the University Hall, the previous center for University events before Hill Auditorium.
After moving between several buildings, “The Arts of Peace” and “The Arts of War” ended up in the Reference Room when the Hatcher Graduate Library opened in 1920.