Letter to the Editor: Socha murals were an honor for the university campus

Laurie Wilson

I recently learned about the controversy surrounding the Socha Murals in Kiehle Auditorium at the University of Minnesota Crookston. I thought of the hundreds of times I had viewed those murals before, during and after my 31 years of employment there. I thought of what an honor it was for our campus to host the historic work of such a renowned muralist whose other works hang in places such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. None of those prestigious venues are trying to cover up, take down or diminish his works in any way. They regard them as national treasures depicting snapshots of our nation in its evolution.

I also recall a period of time when I held responsibilities for working to improve physical accessibility at UMC, and the murals presented a challenge to making changes to that access. Fortunately, wiser more visionary and skilled professionals than I addressed that issue and preserved the murals in their entirety.

I remember being disappointed by the absence of any representation of women on the murals, but being motivated to find out more about the untold stories…the ones Socha had not been commissioned to paint. Over the years, many people on the campus worked to bring those stories to light and life with all manner of events representing historical figures and events across the decades. We listened and learned and were enriched over and over with Women’s History Month presentations and Black History Month presentations and Indigenous artists and Cinco de Mayo festivities, and lectures of all kinds from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. III, Nobel Prize Recipient, Norman Borlaug, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Taylor Branch, local historian, Virgil Benoit, and so many more. The beautiful Socha Murals have been a backdrop and a catalyst for all of the stories.

Years ago, my mother rescued a tattered deteriorating volume called the Compendium of History and Biography of Polk County Minnesota. It was published in 1916 and is 481 pages long. It is rich with stories of Norse explorers, rival Indigenous tribal peoples, fur traders and Selkirk settlers, the first white people in Polk County, the origins and early development of the Crookston School of Agriculture, and so much more. There is hardly a woman’s name mentioned in the entire volume, and much of the language in which it is composed is completely inappropriate for the current era, but that doesn’t negate its value! It has been rebound and readied for the next generation to read and learn from. Someday, it will become a gift when I find a person or a location that will value it.

The Socha Murals in almost any venue would be a treasure for all time, but they are moments in time and in that regard, incomplete. There are more walls and more muralists and more stories to present. Whoever said that we couldn’t make room for more so that 80 years from now people will be stirred to keep telling the stories of their time? Even though my voice comes late to the discussion, I couldn’t rest thinking that I hadn’t acknowledged or honored all of the beauty and inspiration and wonder the Socha Murals offered in my own small life. I would thank him if I could.

Laurie Wilson