Youth's Strife in the Approach to Life's Problems
Youth's Strife in the Approach to Life's Problems is a 900-square-foot painted mural surrounding the proscenium of Woodlawn High School's main auditorium. It was designed by artist/engineer Sidney van Sheck in 1934 and painted between 1937 and 1939 by Birmingham painter Richard Blauvelt Coe for the Works Progress Administration. It is the largest WPA mural in the South.
The 70-foot wide mural was executed in oil on linen and then adhered to the plaster wall above the stage. It reaches 8-feet high at the center and a 2-foot wide section on each end descends 20 feet toward the floor. The painting depicts numerous human struggles and the liberating power of education. In the center stand a boy and girl looking out into the future. The composition is surmounted by an inscription reading "Gloried be they who forsaking unjust riches strive in fulfillment of humble tasks for peace and culture and equality of all mankind."
In 2006, at the urging of officials of Birmingham-Southern College, Mountain Brook mayor and Woodlawn alumnus Terry Oden formed a fund-raising committee to finance the restoration and conservation of the mural. The group raised about $281,000 from individuals and Birmingham neighborhood associations, but it was only enough to complete about 80% of the work.
The restoration work was commenced by Conservation Technologies Inc. of Birmingham, headed by conservator John Bertalan and his wife Dolores. When funds ran short, the company left the scaffolding intact and moved to similar work at Phillips High School, funded by a state grant. With increased attention from an exhibition of WPA-era public works sponsored by the Birmingham Historical Society and the Birmingham Public Library, it is hoped that additional funds can be raised to complete the Woodlawn restoration project.
- Coman, Victoria L. (March 25, 2007) "Donors step in to help restore mural." Birmingham News
- Crowe, Joe C. (March 17, 2009) "Woodlawn High's huge 1930s mural regaining its luster." Birmingham News
- Ellaby, Liz (November 9, 2009) "Costly projects aim to keep Birmingham school murals from fading into history". Birmingham News
- Van Sheck's design for the Woodlawn mural at the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Woodlawn High School W.P.A. Mural Restoration weblog
- Woodlawn Mural restoration photos at bplonline.org
- Woodlawn Murals slideshow at al.com
- Woodlawn High School W.P.A. Mural on Facebook.com