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Hanover, New Hampshire

The Epic of American Civilization

3,200-square-foot mural inside Dartmouth Library depicts the history of America with images of human sacrifice, ancient gods, and other unspeakable terrors. 

Created by Mexican-born artist José Clemente Orozco, The Epic of American Civilization mural wraps around the interior walls of both wings of the large reserve corridor in the Baker Library at 250-year-old Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Started in 1932, it took Orozco two years to finish the work, which is made up of 24 individual panels painted directly onto the wet plaster of the walls. It covers a surface area of approximately 3,200 square feet.

The Epic of American Civilization depicts the history of America in an unconventional way. Orozco’s history dedicates half of its size to the rise and fall of the Aztec Empire, spends a few brief square feet on the influence of Spanish and European culture on North America, and then ends with a meditation on the promises and perils of a modern industrialized society.

The narrative of the mural is told primarily through metaphor. It includes such images as human sacrifice, serpent-faced and fire-wreathed pagan gods, sinister-looking machines, Christ with an axe, Quetzalcoatl on a raft of snakes, and a skeleton giving birth.

Adapted with Permission from: The New England Grimpendium by J.W. Ocker

Contributed by
JWOcker
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