"Epic of Minnesota's Greatest Forests" Mural Decision

History of the Mural

Former UMN student and faculty member Hazel Thorson Stoick Stoeckler created The Epic of Minnesota’s Great Forests” mural in 1945 as part of her master’s degree in architecture. Located in Green Hall on the Twin Cities Campus in St. Paul, the mural is her depiction of Minnesota's timber era. Stoeckler was a professor in the UMN College of Design from 1961 to 1981.

Creation of the mural involved research on the history of forestry through books and interviews as well as the study of the Mexican muralist movement, including visits to view and study several well-known murals. In 1988, when Green Hall was renovated, the mural was slated to be altered. The hallway roof was dropped and would have covered the top portion of the mural. A group of alumni objected and the construction plan was altered to maintain the mural. Stoeckler renovated the mural in 1990 and wrote an artist’s statement – included below – that was hung across the hall in 1994.

The artist and her mural invite distinction as well as critique. To the best of our knowledge, the mural represents the first artistic product that was considered a master of arts thesis in architecture. For a female artist to create a mural of this size in 1945 was also significant. While progressive at the time, the present-day impact from the description of history in the artist’s statement and the artist’s depiction of an American Indian man in the mural provided for and continue to perpetuate offensive stereotypes, language, imagery, and story involving American Indian peoples. Read the full artist’s statement

Recent Discussion

In 2017 concerns about the content of the mural were raised with forest resources departmental leadership. Specifically, faculty, staff, students, and community members shared concerns that the mural, painted in 1945, presents a version of history that misrepresents and omits key factors and people from Minnesota’s forest history. 

Concerns regarding the mural were brought to the attention of the Department of Forest Resources (FR) when it conducted departmental surveys and listening sessions, and installed comment boxes in Green Hall, to provide an opportunity for feedback on diversity and inclusion within the department. The outreach for feedback was led by FR’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee from fall 2017 to spring 2018. These surveys prompted the Natural Resources Association of Graduate Students to ask that the mural be removed in an open letter to FR administration. 

To address and respond to concerns, a subcommittee compiled a report about the mural and the issues surrounding it, and made suggestions for moving forward together into the future.

Four main issues with the mural were identified in the FR DEI Committee report

  • misrepresentation of the history of treaty era/negotiations, 
  • harmful caricature of an American Indian person in the mural, 
  • lack of diverse representation in the history of forestry; and
  • an incomplete reflection of the history of forestry.

Decision to Cover

Discussions with students, faculty, stakeholders, the mural’s artist and her family, and University legal counsel have led to a decision to construct a semi-permanent wall that will cover the mural while also preserving it as an historical artifact.

As a place of teaching, learning, and discovery, CFANS aims to uphold the guiding principles of the University – to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, respond to a continuously changing world, and embody responsibility and integrity. Thanks to everyone who shared their viewpoint on this mural; the College believes this decision aligns with these principles.