Worcester Free Public Library


Three mural panels by Ralf Edgar Nickelsen are located on the second floor of the Main Library.  The murals are titled:

  • Reading of the Mail – Communication of Ideas (87” x 204”) The women reading their mail and conversing represent the manufacturing workers of Worcester in the 1930’s.
  • Street Building – The Foundation of All Communication (97” x 204”)This depicts men building a road in the 1930’s.
  • Farming in the Worcester Region (97” x 382”) This depicts agricultural activities in the Worcester area prior to 1910.  Men are reaping and women are gathering the fallen stalks into sheaves.  Wheat and rye were grown in this vicinity.

The murals are on permanent loan from the National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution.  They were sponsored by the Section of Fine Arts of the Public Buildings Administration, Federal Works Agency.
Ralf Edgar Nickelsen was born February 2, 1903 in Hamburg, Germany.  He received his training in his father’s studio and the State Art School of Hamburg.  He came to the United States and studied at the Art Students League in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts School and the Art Students League in Boston.  He spent several years working in stained glass in association with C. J. Connick. 
Mr. Nickelsen was 35 years of age, living in Auburndale, MA, when he won this commission in 1938 through a regional competition of 47 New England painters.  The committee in charge of the competition was chaired by Paul Morgan, Jr. with members Perry Cott, associate curator of the Worcester Art Museum; Umberto Roman, painter; Maurice C. Meade, architect of the Parcel Post Building; and Henry Scott, head of the art department of Amherst College.
The murals were originally located in the Worcester Parcel Post Office Building in 1940  The Post Office abandoned the Parcel Post Building in the late 1960’s and the building turned over to the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  The building was razed and a parking garage was constructed on the site adjacent to Union Station.  The murals were moved to the New York studio of restorer Hiram Hoelzer, who cleaned and restored them.  The Worcester Public Library’s Board of Directors and the Friends of the Library led a campaign to return the murals to Worcester.  The Friend raised the money for transportation and rehanging.  A dedication ceremony, attended by the artist, was held on December 14, 1972.
Mr. Nickelsen also recreated stained glass windows for Wesley Methodist Church and the chapel of the Memorial Hospital in Worcester.

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