As early as 1963, the George C. Marshall Research Library had been negotiating with the National Academy of Design for a mural to be placed in the building as a contribution from the Abbey Mural Fund. Named after Edwin Austin Abbey, a renowned muralist who died in 1911, the Fund was established by Abbey’s widow, Mrs. Mary Gertrude Abbey, to make possible the awarding of mural commissions in buildings devoted to public service.
The Academy announced a contest held among six artists who were invited to submit sketches, and Henrik Martin Mayer (1908-1972), was chosen to execute the mural. Mayer earned his B.F.A. from the Yale School of Fine Art, and had been the first muralist to receive a Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project commission in Indiana. In 1956, Mayer became the Dean of the Art School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and was also Director of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.
Mr. Mayer’s central theme for the mural was General Marshall’s 1947 speech at Harvard, and plans began in 1965 to have the mural dedicated during the twentieth anniversary year – 1967.
As plans began to firm in the spring of 1967, the National Academy of Design agreed to dedicate the mural on the same day as the release of a proposed Marshall stamp, October 24. Both Mr. Mayer and Mr. Edgar I Williams, former president of the National Academy of Design, were present at the ceremony.
The mural, completed by Mr. Mayer after a year’s work, is unusual in that it was painted on a single piece of Belgian linen in the artist’s studio in Essex, Connecticut. It was placed on the wall of the new museum room during the summer under the supervision of the artist.
(Unable to access the actual photographs at this time, these black and white images do not do the installation justice, and will be replaced by high-resolution once the originals can be scanned.)
In Mayer’s words, his painting “deals with the spirit of General Marshall’s as a soldier and statesman, who with wisdom and foresight saw the deplorable condition of preparedness of the United States prior to Pearl Harbor, and by his leadership brought the United States from its unprepared state to one capable of contending with the global situation.” The central portion of the mural carries out this theme.