Edward Laning, whose dream as a young man was to travel across the country in his car, solicit various communities to paint murals in the local courthouses, and execute mural decoration for the cost of the materials and room and board, became an outstanding mural painter with a special talent for figure painting. Born in Petersburg, Illinois in 1906, he studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1923-24) then at the University of Chicago (1925-27). He received further art instruction for the following three years at the Art Students League in New York under Max Weber, John Sloan, Boardman Robinson, Thomas Hart Benton and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Laning owes much of his style to the latter. Laning would have been exposed to the classical monumentality of Renaissance and Baroque mural painting in Rome, where he was in 1929 and 1931. He won travel grants (Guggenheim and Fulbright), exhibited widely, and took part in WPA mural projects. Meanwhile, Laning became an instructor at the Art Students League (1932-33), at the Cooper Union (1940-43) and headed the department of painting at the Kansas City Art Institute (1945-50).
Laning executed Role of the Immigrant in the Industrial Development of America, a mural for the Aliens’ Dining Room at Ellis Island, which shows off the painter’s skill at rendering the human figure in complicated poses; these works have been restored and are now to be seen in the Federal Building in Brooklyn. Laning did another (The Past as Connecting Thread of Human Life, a triptych) for the Rockingham, North Carolina Post Office (1937). At the Bowling Green, Kentucky Post Office and Court House Laning produced The Long Hunters Discover Daniel Boone (1942). His painting The Corn Dance (Private collection) has been called “a rare social protest painting of a serious Pueblo ritual diminished by the uninvolved tourists.” (Samuels and Samuels, 1976, p. 278). Similar in style and composition is Illinois Camp Meeting. Five murals are to be found in the New York Public Library: The Story of the Recorded Word (1940), one of four stages of writing and a curious WPA Neo-Baroque ceiling in a third floor lobby vault, Prometheus (1941). Here we look up at foreshortened figures arranged on the ends of an imaginary oval space. In the center Prometheus descends, bringing the gift of fire. By 1958 Laning was named a National Academician. He taught at the Art Students League.
Hall, W.S. Eyes on America: The United States as Seen by Her Artists. New York: Studio Publications , p. 81; Samuels, Peggy and Harold Samuels. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1976; Barr, Norman et al. New York City WPA Art. New York: WPA Artists, Inc. , p. 56; Park, Marlene and Gerald E. Markowitz. New Deal for Art: The Government Art Projects of the 1930s with Examples from New York City and State. Hamilton, NY: Gallery Association of New York State, 1977, pp. 56, 58, 108, 156, 160-161; Contreras, Belisario R. Tradition and Innovation in New Deal Art. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1983, pp. 190-191.
Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.