John White Alexander’s The Crowning of Labor

Our Multimedia Producer, Tom Fisher, selected today’s Favorite Friday–the murals of John White Alexander located on our beautiful Grand Staircase!

Detail of a mural painting featuring one person wearing a dress and holding a basket and looking over their shoulder surrounded by children looking at them
John White Alexander, The Crowning of Labor, 1907–1908, Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Bryan Conley

The Crowning of Labor is unfinished. Muralist John White Alexander died before completing his three-story, 4,000-square-foot tribute to the working people of Pittsburgh. The third-floor frieze, entitled The March of Progress, depicts a procession of laborers striving toward enlightenment, but the panels representing the fruits of their efforts remain blank. In celebration of the Museums’ centennial in 1995, industrial grime that obscured the murals for decades was removed. Revealed was a portrait of Pittsburgh that, while proud and historic, excludes the identities and contributions of many. The people, like the empty canvases they parade toward, are starkly and uniformly white. What I love about this incomplete work is that it is up to us to fill in the blanks. In the empty panels, we can envision truer ideals of community. I see only hopeful promises waiting to be fulfilled.”

John White Alexander, John White Alexander's The Crowning of Labor