Seventy-five years ago in spring 1939, John Augustus Walker, a mural painter in Mobile employed by the Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration, received a commission from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service in Auburn to create a sweeping visual record of the history of farming within our state. The Extension Service planned to present a display that fall at the Alabama State Fair in Birmingham for which Walker’s paintings were to be the dramatic highlight. Over the next several months Walker collaborated with administrators at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), the United States Department of Agriculture, and the FAP to devise the general themes for the ambitious project, and partnered with fellow Mobile artist Richebourg Gaillard to realize it. The result is a brilliantly colored and inventive sequence of large tempera paintings known as the Historic Panorama of Alabama Agriculture.
Following their installation at the Alabama State Fair October 2–7 and a subsequent ten-day display at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport, the paintings returned to Auburn where they were stored and all but forgotten until 2006, when the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) rediscovered the works and featured them as part of Auburn University’s sesquicentennial celebration. In 2010 the paintings were conserved and generously transferred to the permanent collection at JCSM, where they can now be studied as prized examples of New Deal-era art. The present exhibition, coinciding with ACES’s 100th anniversary, marks the first time the entire series has been exhibited in a museum setting. Walker’s ten-panel Panorama looks back to the area’s Native American first farmers and culminates with a surrealistic cornucopia of modern advances in farm technology and its benefits. An illustrated brochure accompanies the exhibition.