The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council of the Department of Arkansas Heritage has awarded the UALR gallery program a $180,000 grant for the preservation of “The Struggle of the South,” a 44-feet mural painted in 1935 by Joe Jones.
“The Struggle of the South” was originally housed in the Student Commons at Commonwealth College in Polk County. After the college closed in 1940, the mural was removed from the campus, eventually ending up as closet lining in a house near Fort Smith. When UALR acquired the artwork in 1984, it was divided into 29 fragile pieces.
“The mural features images of coal mining, sharecropping, and lynching,” said UALR Gallery Director Brad Cushman. “The work depicts struggle, poverty, and also hope. This hope comes from the share-croppers and miners themselves, from their unity, and their realization that they can only be emancipated by helping one another.”
Earlier this year, the gallery program received a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities that will support travel, research, and film production of a documentary that chronicles the mural’s restoration.
In 2010, the St. Louis Art Museum restored a section of the mural at their expense for their exhibition “Joe Jones: Painter of the American Scene.”
“Once the mural is conserved it will become a centerpiece of the UALR campus,” said Cushman. “It will bring national and international attention to the university and be the perfect complement to other cultural institutions in the community such as the Central High School Museum and Visitor Center, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Philander Smith College, and the Clinton Presidential Center and the Clinton School of Public Service.”
Joe Jones was born in 1909 and died in 1963. He began as a house painter and then turned to easel painting as a means of self-expression and later as a means of addressing social injustice.
“This project speaks to the university’s willingness to address this specific and challenging piece of history,” Cushman said. “The content represented by this artwork crosses disciplines and will continue to challenge students and scholars to discuss and debate Arkansas’s complex history in conjunction with the broader history of the United States of America.”