Milford’s murals and the power of one teacher

Editor's Note: The following article was submitted to the Milford Mirror by the Milford Fine Arts Council.

During the 1940s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration’s Federal Artists Project was at its height — hiring Connecticut artists to paint murals in public buildings — one Milford teacher was creating her own mural program.

Rose Marucci was the new art teacher at Milford High School. Her art room was on the third floor of the Toulson (or Yellow) Building on River Street, a building that still stands but is now the River Park Apartments.

“It was Milford’s 300th anniversary and it took Miss Marucci six months to convince School Supt. Dr. Carl Maddox to allow her talented students, under the direction of student Jay Heydock, to research and create a mural to celebrate it,” said Marion Morra, curator of Milford’s Permanent Art Collection.

The mural, a colonial scene of Milford, included the faces of some of the students who worked on it, even the features of Supt. Maddox. The celebratory mural was painted directly on the wall of the art room and, when it was finished in 1939, it was written up in a Connecticut education journal.

“The success of the first mural allowed Miss Marucci to think bigger,” continued Morra. “This time, she decided that the mural would be painted on canvas, then attached to a frame to allow it to be moved. She lobbied successfully for canvas and wood. She also had her eye on a student who she knew had talent but was not yet a serious art student – Eddie Kasper.”

Kasper’s History of Mathematics mural

Kasper had his own set of challenges. At the age of five, he developed tuberculosis of the hip, for which there was then no effective treatment. He entered a sanitarium for children with bone TB and, because he had to stay off his feet, learned to paint. He stayed in the sanitarium until he became high school age, when he entered Milford High School.

One day, when Kasper was a senior — and president of the Class of 1942 — he was walking past Miss Martucci’s art room when she suddenly pulled him into her room and asked if he would like to paint a mural. Surprised, he thought she was joking but seeing the big roll of canvas, he realized she was serious.

Kasper was considering math as a career and, after doing some research, decided to concentrate his painting on the history of mathematics. He started making drawings. It was agreed that the new mural, featuring the greats of mathematics, would stretch across the front wall above the blackboard in a math room on the second floor of the high school.

For most of the year, Kasper worked on the mural every afternoon when school was finished and in any spare moments he had during the day. Marucci often encouraged her other students to watch Eddie as he created his paintings. When Let No Man Ignorant of Geometry Enter Here was complete, it featured Euclid, the founder of geometry and Greek author, sitting between two pillars, surrounded by 17 other mathematics luminaries.

But Marucci was not finished. Impressed with Kasper’s talent and unbeknownst to him, she had taken some of his work to the Dean of the Yale art school, who was impressed with his work. Kasper was called into Supt. Maddox’s office and told he had received the Gunn Scholarship, a full scholarship to Yale University School of Fine Arts.

By 1950, Yale graduate Kasper had moved to New York and made his first sale to Vogue Magazine. Soon he became a freelance artist for Sports Illustrated and went on to become one of Sports Illustrated’s most famous artist/photographers.

Known mostly for sport art, including his lithograph of golf great Sam Sneed, Kasper painted one of his most famous works — NHL, a painting Sports Illustrated commissioned him to create in 1979. NHL was donated to the American Sport Art Museum and Archives.

He exhibited at Dartmouth College, Spectrum Fine Arts in New York City and many other galleries throughout New England. He also did illustrations for Columbia Record, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and a number of books. For the last 15 years of his life, Kasper specialized in portraits.

Kasper’s interest in the state of Milford’s murals

“As we are today,” said Morra, “Kasper also was worried about the future of Milford’s murals. In 1975, when members of the Walnut Beach firehouse decided to renovate the firehouse’s interior and cover the WPA mural that had been painted on one of its walls, one of the volunteer firemen called Kasper to see what he could do. Kasper saw that the mural was in terrible shape and decided to restore it. As he said at the time, ‘I know how to do that sort of thing. It looks real nice now and I gave it a protective coating to keep it from yellowing or peeling.’

“Unfortunately,” continued Morra, “the Walnut Beach firehouse WPA mural is now among the missing, as is the original mural painted by Miss Marucci’s students in honor of Milford’s 300th anniversary. The loss of these historic artworks is why Milford’s Permanent Art Collection Committee is working to raise funds to restore another mural which has been saved and is desperately in need of conservation: They Shall Pass This Way But Once, a WPA mural that once hung in Milford’s Central Grammar School and when restored, will hang in the Milford Library.

“We can only imagine with fondness the energy and resourcefulness of people like Miss Marucci and Ed Kasper and wish they were here to inspire us as we try to raise the dollars needed to restore Milford’s artwork,” concluded Morra.