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Center Mural

Jersey Homsteads - Mural Center View
Mural - Center

Text of interview with Bernarda Shahn conducted by Bill Fernekes and Bill Marshall at Mrs. Shahn's residence, December 15, 1998.

Click on player below to listen to the interview.

Shahn: ...And before the labor organizer, there is a very important part of the mural, which is the buildings that come at a triangle at such a way as to make it a very emphatic part of the picture, and this is the building of the Triangle fire, and I think it was in the 20's. I don't know just when the Triangle fire was, do you?

Fernekes: It was before the First World War.

Shahn: It was that early?

Fernekes: Yes.

Shahn: The story of that was that the women were working in the factory and the owner of the factory had locked our doors so that the labor organizers could not come in and talk to the women, and the place of course caught fire and the women were burned in this awful position. And so, Ben felt that the Triangle fire was extremely important because it activated so many people. Mrs. Roosevelt, in fact Frances Perkins, who was the first woman labor leader--what do you call it?

Marshall: Secretary.

Shahn: Secretary, she was activated by that fire. Mrs. Roosevelt was her friend, and that was one of the inceptions of Mrs. Roosevelt's great mind and great contribution to liberal thinking in this country and liberal activity, so Ben felt that that was a pretty important part of the mural.

The next part shows labor leaders, and Ben said that he did his utmost not to make that look like John L. Lewis, but in spite of everything he did. But this very central character is a labor leader who really in a certain sense, set up a sort of security for labor altogether, an ideal I think you would call it; I'm trying to think of a word that would have the kind of meaning that the NLRB and so on and so forth had at that point, the importance of unions at the particular point.

Fernekes: The protection, sort of a safety sense of protection.

Shahn: Even power. To establish them with some sort of base of strength.

This area below the labor leader is simply a group of people who were working on the project and the series of gates are the success dates of the ILGWU. beginning in the back with just a doorway, and brick building, and at that point this gateway was the newest building of the ILGWU, which now has a much bigger building, or did have, I hope it isn't declining.