Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Abram L. Craft

In 1937, a WPA program called the Federal Art Project funded a mural to decorate the halls of Rochester High School. Painted by muralist Marvin Beerbohm and installed over a central stairway in the school, the work entitled “Industrial Environment of Rochester High School” was unveiled in 1938.

As was common with many paintings commissioned under the FAP program, Rochester's mural features subject matter that is locally significant, including scenes of the Ferry-Morse Seed Farm and the Parkedale Biological Farms. The central figure in the mural is Abram L. Craft, who served as superintendent of the Rochester school district from about 1898 to 1908.

Abram L. Craft was born in Springfield Township, Oakland County, in 1854, the son of Charles Burton Craft and Lydia Ann Lyman. He was graduated from Fenton High School, and then attended Detroit Business University and Ferris Institute. He taught in several schools in Oakland County, including those in Clyde, Highland, Rose, White Lake, Springfield, Clarkston and Rochester. He was a county school examiner for 26 years, and after leaving Rochester in 1908 he served as Oakland County School Commissioner until his retirement in 1923.

In the summer of 1937, at the age of 81, A.L. Craft was honored by the Rochester Board of Education as the only local individual to be depicted in the Beerbohm mural commissioned for the high school. The inclusion of his image in the mural was meant to be a tribute to his half-century of service to the students of Oakland County. Unfortunately, Craft died at his Pontiac home on December 17, 1937, a few months before the painting was completed.

The Beerbohm mural remained on display in the school until 1961, when it was covered with drywall and forgotten during a building renovation. The damaged art work was rediscovered during another renovation in 1990, and was recently adopted for restoration by the Rochester Avon Historical Society. It has been undergoing cleaning and restoration by professional art conservator LaVere Webster; the Society hopes to return it to public view as soon as funds to pay for its proper re-hanging can be raised.

The illustration shows the image of Abram L. Craft as it appears in the Marvin Beerbohm mural.

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