John R Ballator (1909 – 1967) Industry and Commerce, 1936, tempera on panel, 16 ½ x 39 ½ inches, signed verso “John Ballator, Portland Ore.” provenance includes: J.C. Penney Company, represented by Russell Tether Fine Arts Assoc.; presented in a newer wood frame
About the Painting
Industry and Commerce is a prime example of WPA Era muralism. Like a Mediaeval alter, this mural study is filled with icons, but the images of saints and martyrs are replaced with symbols of America's gospel of prosperity through capitalism. Industry and Commerce has a strong narrative quality with vignettes filling the entire surface. Extraction, logistics, design, power generation, and manufacturing for printing, chemicals, automobiles and metal products are all represented. To eliminate any doubt about the mural's themes, Ballator letters a description into the bottom of the study. Ballator also presents an idealized version of industrial cooperation, as his workers, lab-coated technicians and tie-wearing managers work harmoniously toward a common goal in the tidy and neatly designed environments. Although far from the reality of most industrial spaces, Ballator's study reflects the idealized and morale boosting tone that many mural projects adopted during the Great Depression.
About the Artist
John R Ballator achieved success as a muralist, lithographer, and teacher during the Great Depression. Born in Oregon, he studied at the Portland Museum Art School, the University of Oregon and at Yale University where he received a Bachelor of Fine Art. In 1936, Ballator was commissioned to paint a mural panel for the new Department of Justice Building in Washington DC, an important project that spanned five years with several dozen artists contributing a total of sixty-eight designs. Ballator completed murals for the St. Johns Post Office and Franklin High School, both in Portland, Oregon. He also contributed to the 1938 murals at Nathan Hale School in New Haven, Connecticut. During the late 1930s, Ballator taught art for several years at Washburn College in Topeka, Kanas, where he completed a mural for the Menninger Arts & Craft Shop before accepting a professorship at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, where he became the department head and remained for over three decades, though he often summered in Oregon. While at Hollins, he founded the Roanoke Fine Arts Center. Ballator is listed in Who Was Who in American Art and other standard references.