If you have a question, Steve Pokin wants to hear it.
Answer Man: I work at Hawthorn Bank at the northeast corner of Battlefield Street and Campbell Avenue. The building has a mural facing the intersection. It has Indians, soldiers, hunters and settlers. What is the story behind the mural? Was the building always a bank? — Dustin W. Turner, of Springfield
Yes, it has always been a bank and the mosaic has always been there.
The bank was constructed in 1986 by Home Savings, based in California, which years ago was the nation’s largest savings and loan.
Home Savings was acquired in 1998 by Washington Mutual.
Answer Man: What can you tell me about this bank mural? (Photo: Christopher Brown photo)
The mural on Hawthorn Bank was made in Milan, Italy. The tiles were shipped to Springfield, says Adam Arenson, associate professor of history and director of the Urban Studies Program at Manhattan College in New York.
Arenson has studied public art commissioned by Home Savings for its buildings.
Home Savings was based in Irwindale, California, and founded by H.F. Ahmanson.
The company expanded nationally and once had six locations in Missouri, including the one in Springfield. Half of the banks with public art are located in California.
Arenson has written a book on the art and the studio that created it: “Banking on Beauty: Millard Sheets and Mid-Century Commercial Architecture in California.”
It is scheduled to be published in February by the University of Texas Press.
Arenson says he has cataloged 168 former Home Savings locations with artwork created by the Millard Sheets Studio, which was based in Claremont, California.
In 2016, the New York Times wrote about Sheets, who died in 1989. The story carried the headline: The Artist who Beautified California Banks.
The Home Savings banks in Missouri went by the name of Savings of America because the words “home savings” were already taken, Arenson tells me.
A building identical to the one constructed in Springfield in 1986 was built in Kansas City, Arenson says. But the mural was slightly different.
Ahmanson, founder of Home Savings, commissioned art for his banks because he wanted them to look different, Arenson says.
Some have painted murals. Some have mosaic murals, made of tiles, like the one here.
In addition to the studio’s work with Home Savings it created at least 159 other public art projects.
After Sheets died, the driving forces in the studio were Denis O’Connor, a muralist and mosaic artist, who died in 2008, and Susan Hertel, an artist and designer. She died in 1993.
According to Arenson, Hertel designed the mosaic here in Springfield.
Generally speaking, the further the bank’s location from California the more generic the art. The mosaic in Springfield depicts (from left to right) Native Americans, soldiers, hunters and settlers.
The artwork in California, on the other hand, was more representative and distinctive of the community where the bank was located.
Typically, O’Connor did the tile work in California. He would draw the mural on paper and then attach tiles to the paper and set it in a frame for delivery.
But for unknown reasons O’Connor did not do the Springfield tile work.
Instead, it was contracted to the Colledani Milan/NOVA Design Studio in Milan, Arenson says.
But the Springfield mural contains a mistake, Arenson says — probably because it was done in Italy and not in the United States.
In the bottom right corner are supposed to be the initials SH, for Susan Hertel, who designed the mural.
But the “S” was mistakenly reversed.
Arenson suspects the “H” also was reversed, as well, but it doesn’t really matter with an “H.”
Keep those questions coming. Send them to The Answer Man at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.
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