Part 4: Grand Staircase

Part 4: Grand Staircase
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From the Marshall Gallery, either climb one of the large marble staircases or take the elevator to the second floor. From here, you should see four large murals flanking the staircases.

Muriel Scheinman’s book “A Guide to Art at the University of Illinois” is a broad history of the public art at the university. From her research we learn that the four Art Deco murals were painted by Barry Faulkner in 1927. Meant to represent four hemispheres – Polar, Celestial, Eastern, and Western. A faculty committee advising on decorations for the new library building had wanted recognizable imagery related to the Midwest, though Faulkner wanted the murals to be more allegorical. Faulkner was bound to the idea that architectural art should be primarily decorative and fought for artistic freedom. Many academics were alarmed that Ptolemy, depicted in the Celestial Hemisphere, was holding a not-yet-invented telescope. The advising committee finally gave into the painter’s vision of the classical Grecian images that now adorn the walls.

At the top of the stairs, there is a large glass case displaying pictures of birds. This is the John James Audubon collection. James Audubon published the original edition of Birds of America from 1840-1844. The original prints are held in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library where they continue to appreciate value. In the display case is the 1985 facsimile copy by the Abbeville Press. The print is changed weekly.

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