American muralist Allyn Cox (1896-1982) spent the last 30 years of his distinguished career painting historical scenes in our nation’s capital. He completed the mural on the great rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, begun over a century earlier by the Italian artist Constantino Brumidi. Cox’s contribution includes scenes of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the birth of the age of aviation.
Cox also painted murals in the Great Experiment Hall on the House side of the Capitol building. There, he depicted the “Four Freedoms” and scenes of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin entertaining members of the Constitutional Convention, and others.
It was an auspicious end to a long career that began much more modestly right here in Windsor.
For Allyn Cox, in the summer of 1916, at the age of 20, painted the panel above the fireplace in the Windsor Library. Sixty years later, a sharp-eyed library worker helped discover and confirm this piece of history, practically in the nick of time.
In the summer of 1978, while Cox was busily decorating the Great Experiment Hall, Marguerite Nyberg read a newspaper article in the Burlington Free Press about Allyn Cox, the D.C. muralist. She had also noted the same name on the library panel. Gail Furnas, then the Windsor Librarian, wrote Cox a letter in August 1978, inquiring about the painting, and Cox wrote back confirming that he was the artist.
The text of his letter, reproduced here in its entirety, contains several points of interest.
The Cosmos Club
2121 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20008
10 September, 1978,
Ms. Gail Abbot[t] Furnas, Librarian,
The Windsor Public Library,
43 State Street, Windsor, Vermont, 05089,
Dear Ms. Abbott:
Tha[n]k you for your letter.
My parents, the Kenyon Coxes, were part of the Cornish colony of artists that gathered around Mr. Saint-Gaudens.
I had just won the Fellowship in the American Academy in Rome, in those days a three-year affair, in the Spring, and looked forward to a long Summer in Cornish before leaving for Rome in October.
It seemed to me that, fresh from the Art-schools of New York, and about to start my three years of studio work in Rome, it might be a good idea to try to get some experience in actual wall-painting. I asked Mr. Sherman Evarts, at that time an official of the Library, if they would let me decorate the overmantel panel — free of charge.
The Board did not object, so that is how I spent the Summer.
The inscription was supplied by Mr. Evarts, and means: “Accurate reading is of profit, Varied (reading) delights.” Author? I have forgotten.
By way of payment, The Library Board gave me a leather-bound volume of reproductions of “the Hundred Best Pictures”.
I am not related to the very distinguished Archibald Cox family, but I remember Mrs. Cox very well as a beautiful young girl.
I took part in the celebrated Saint-Gaudens masque in 1905 (?) and have one of the medals[,] struck in commemoration of it, with my name.
My father died in 1919, and my mother sold the Cornish cottage to Mr. Harry Arnold. I returned in 1920, after the War, to a very different world, and to the necessity of at once starting to earn my living, in New York, and have not been back to Cornish or Windsor except for a few very brief visits.
As to other information, I see you have read the notice in Who’s Who, which is all correct as to dates, etc.
I should be extremely grateful if you could get me a clipping, or a Xerox of it, of the notice in the Burlington Free Press.
[signed] Allyn Cox
Cox died four years later, of a stroke at the age of 86. A week earlier, he had been hailed as “a great artist” by Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to which he had devoted so much of his life and talent.
The Valley News, July 27, 1981, and August 1, 1981
The Windsor Chronicle, December 21, 1978, and July 24, 1987
Unidentified and undated newspaper obituary (may be the Boston Globe)
Handwritten, unsigned copy (draft?) of a letter dated August 30, 1978, to Allyn Cox (presumed to have been written by Furnas)
Letter from Allyn Cox to Gail Abbott Furnas dated September 10, 1978