Grand Reading Room Mural

The History of Learning in Florida Mural in the Grand Reading Room
Hollis Holbrook “The History of Learning in Florida” (1953)

The History of Learning In Florida

The History of Learning in Florida was painted in the Grand Reading Room in 1953-54 by Hollis H. Holbrook, a member of the UF Faculty of Art from 1938-1978.

Holbrook, who graduated from the Massachussetts School of Art in 1934 and the Yale School of Fine art in 1936. His previous commissions had included a series of American scenes for the walls of post offices. The mural was painted in the summer of 1953 and dedicated in February of 1954. The scene next to the dedication (in the lower right corner) depicts Holbrook and then-Library director Stanley West examining a copy of the “East Florida Gazette” below a hand-powered printing press.

The painting of the mural came after what Holbrook referred to in a 1975 interview as “the boom years” at the close of the 1940s, when Gainesville began to change from the sleepy, Depression-era town of Holbrook’s arrival into the institution that it is today.

Holbrook divided the mural into three distinct sections, with the left section illustrating learning through contact, trade, and the development of the mechanical arts. The right side shows the progress of learning by formal means: education, enfranchisement (including emancipation), and literacy. The center of the tryptych shows the “Spirit of Man: looking to the future and deriving strength from the past.

Hollis Holbrook in 1959

Restoration and Rediscovery

The Mural

Restoring the Mural

In 2015, conservators painstakingly removed over sixty years of dirt and grime from the mural, uncovering clues to the work's origins, and a hidden family connection.

Detail of Hobrook mural with self-portrait