Perhaps the largest set of murals created within the state during the 1930s were the paintings conceived by Edward W. Dubuque for the old Children’s Room at the Providence Public Library (now the main room of Special Collections). Notably, this work was completed under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and not the better known WPA.
Dubuque, a Pawtucket native whose studio at the time was on Hope Street, had had mural experience at the American School in Fountainbleau, and had also designed several murals in the United States before being selected for the library comission.
Dubuque conceived of the murals as expansive collections of characters from children’s literature, and the list of several dozen books that he consulted is still on file at the library. Among the well known characters he chose to illustrate are Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland with the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit, Robinson Crusoe, Cinderella, and the Trojan Horse. The clouds, trees, and foliage add decorative, almost dream-like patterns as a backdrop for the main characters.
Dubuque sited the images high in the room, above the built-in bookcases and furniture, but made the individual figures large enough for even the smallest reader to see. The works have been preserved in situ, that is, on the site for which they were originally intended.
Dubuque was assisted by his wife and Alfred E. James of Auburn in the execution of the paintings. Mrs. Dubuque remembers that that her husband produced colored sketches for each of the sections of the mural but even though these were shown to Earl Rowe of the RISD museum, and to Clarence Sherman, the Librarian at the time, all final technical decisions were left up to the artist.
Dubuque went on to produce sets for the film company Metro Goldwyn Mayer, in their Long Island studio.