Field Museum
The Story of Food Plants, 1938-40

Field Museum, "Plants of the World" exhibit, second floor
Lake Shore Drive at Roosevelt Road

Oil on canvas, eighteen panels, 7' x 9' each
Artist: Julius Moessel (1871-1957)
Commissioned by: the Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project

The eighteen murals commissioned by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration for the Field Museum were called "a high water mark in WPA art achievement" by the head of the Chicago WPA office. Critics hailed the murals as "works that wedded science and art" and called them one of the "imperative 'not-to-be-missed' affairs" of the season. They remain today on the second floor of the museum, in the exhibit called "Plants of the World." Described fully in Mark Alvey's article in the May-June 1999 issue of In the Field, the museum's membership publication, the murals were envisioned as an "illustrative adjunct" to the displays in the Hall of Food Plants. Under the supervision of the museum's curator of botany and with the museum's extensive resources for research, the German-born artist Julius Moessel spent two and a half years creating detailed depictions of agricultural practices in many regions throughout the world. The series of murals includes two large maps that trace the origins of plants and ancient trade routes. In the narrative scenes are early man as hunter-gatherer in western Asia, pod gathering in New Guinea, Indians harvesting corn in Mexico, rice growing in the Philippines, a colonial coffee plantation in Brazil, a primitive olive press in northern Africa, a caravan north of the Persian Gulf, and plowing and sowing in the United States, among others. Illustrated here is a twentieth-century American scene titled A Wholesale Vegetable Market, in which a horse-drawn wagon, still used in the 1930s, enters the modern city of large trucks, ships, warehouses, and tall buildings.

Field Museum, Julius Moessel, A Wholesale Vegetable Market, one of eighteen panels. Photograph by Ron Testa, courtesy of the Field Museum, #BF9545c.

An image from A Guide to Chicago's Murals by Mary Lackritz Gray

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