Two famous Peggy Strong murals return to the public eye on campus
By DENISE ERDAHL PLOOF
Two symbolic murals, which were once displayed in Wheelock Student Center and then relocated to Warner Gym while Marshall Hall was undergoing renovations, are back on view, thanks to the University’s Spirit Task Force. They were hung in the student center and rededicated in a January 19 ceremony.
The murals were painted in 1943 by Peggy Strong, then a 31-year-old Tacoma artist. "They are here as a symbolic link between the University and the city and region that gave us birth 112 years ago," said Associate Dean John Finney at the rededication ceremony.
Strong was a well-known artist whose paintings and murals were displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco and at the Seattle Art Museum, among other places. Two of her murals, a larger Paul Bunyan and a smaller Babe the blue ox were dedicated April 9, 1944, at Tacoma’s Union Station. "During World War II, almost everyone who traveled to Tacoma, including many Puget Sound students, did so by rail through Union Station," said Finney. The murals were commissioned by the Junior League of Tacoma for the Servicemen’s Lounge at Union Station and hung there from 1944 to 1959.
In December 1959, the Junior League gave the two murals to Puget Sound for the Great Hall in the new Student Center. "This was most appropriate because the city of Tacoma, Union Station and the University of Puget Sound all emerged from the same social and economic environment that was based on timber and logging," said Finney. For example, he said, "The first two buildings on this campus, Jones Hall and Howarth Hall, were built with money given to the University by prominent timber families of Tacoma."
The large mural is dominated by Paul Bunyan with Mount Rainier in the background. It depicts methods of early-day logging, including the springboard that loggers stood on as they wielded their two-person saws. The small mural shows Babe the blue ox running away with a plow, with Paul Bunyan holding on for dear life as Babe plows the deep furrow that became known as Puget Sound. "By its presence on our campus, we have in this mural an important symbolic linking together of Puget Sound (the water) and Puget Sound (the college)," said Finney.
Strong died in 1956 at age 43, so did not see her paintings moved to campus in 1959. But her sister was there and said that she hoped the murals of Paul Bunyan and his great blue ox would be viewed by future students "with the potential to be giants in deeds and thoughts." Added Finney, "Today we rededicate these murals with the same hope."