Hovey Murals Study Group Appointed

Written April 19, 2018 by Susan J. Boutwell

The group will make recommendations on the future of the controversial artwork.

A study group will make recommendations on the future of the Hovey murals, four painted scenes that became controversial for their depiction of Native Americans, of women, and, more generally, of the origins of the College’s founding.

Interim Provost David Kotz has convened a group of faculty, students, staff, and alumni to study the matter and develop a recommendation on whether the murals should be moved to a Hood Museum of Art storage facility or remain where they are, in a closed room in the basement of the Class of 1953 Commons.

According to The Hovey Murals at Dartmouth College, Culture and Context, a book of essays by College faculty published by the Hood Museum of Art in 2011, the murals were painted in the late 1930s by Walter Beach Humphrey, Class of 1914, and illustrate a drinking song written by Richard Hovey, Class of 1885. 

The murals are in the basement of what used to be Thayer Dining Hall, in a then-faculty dining room called the Hovey Grill. The room was locked beginning in the early 1970s, and the murals were covered with boards from the early 1980s to the 1990s. The murals are now used for teaching by faculty and the museum. (The dining facility was renovated and reopened in 2011 as ’53 Commons.)

“Native Americans have long pointed out that the caricatures in the Hovey panels reflect white fantasies and stereotypes but bear little resemblance to Native peoples past or present,” Colin Calloway wrote in the book. Calloway holds the John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professorship and is a professor of Native American studies.

The group’s co-chairs are Juliette Bianco ’94, deputy director of the Hood Museum, and Bruce Duthu ’80, professor of Native American studies.

The other members are Kianna Mist Burke ’12, GRAD ’19, interim director of the Native American Program; Michelle Clarke, associate professor of government; Mary Coffey, associate professor of art history; Brooke Hadley ’18, a member of Native Americans at Dartmouth, a student group; Jennie Harlan ’20, Native Americans at Dartmouth; Nick Reo, assistant professor of Native American and environmental studies; and Anna Tsouhlarakis ’99, Native American Visiting Council.

Kotz has asked the study group to consult with various constituencies on campus, including the Native-American community and faculty who use the murals in their teaching and scholarship. They will also seek input from preservationists to understand the practicality of moving and storing the murals. The group is scheduled to report to the provost by the end of the term.

Susan Boutwell can be reached at [email protected].