republished from The Portland Tribune

A new nonprofit organization [was launched] on Monday launched to preserve art in Portland Public Schools. Not in the form of teachers, but literally the art on the walls.

Friends of Art in the Schools, a group of parents, art historians, educators and conservators, aims to preserve the historic works many local school buildings were decorated with in the early 20th century as part of the Works Progress Administration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initiative to create jobs for artists during the Great Depression.

Many of the murals were painted over at some point and forgotten, only to be rediscovered recently, in need of repair and preservation.

At Southeast Portland’s Abernethy School, for example, a square-foot piece of a larger mural painted in 1939 was recently discovered, having been covered with five layers of paint.

It’s called “A Pageant of Oregon History,” painted by artist Erich Lamade as part of the W.P.A. and depicting scenes from the lives of Native Americans.

Similar works have been found at Beach, Chapman and Irvington schools, as well as Jefferson and Grant high schools. The new group seeks to locate, identify, preserve and better display the historic artworks in Portland’s public school buildings.

Ginny Allen, who coauthored a book on Oregon painters and helped inventory the works in the schools, said there are murals as well as statues, sculptures, wood marketry, glass mosaics and a collection of prints and lithographs.

“The collection is remarkable,” she said. “There’s so much of this W.P.A. art; it’s really such a special category … there’s lots of reasons for us to not let that resource be destroyed or lost.”