For Art's Sake

81-year-old artist returns to campus and applies the finishing touch to his 1936 mural

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

It took 60 years, but Joseph Barrett finally supplied the finishing touch to the mural he painted in Gasson Hall: his name.

The 81-year-old artist returned to campus on June 11 and, with several family members and Boston College administrators looking on, added his signature to the mural of St. Patrick he created in 1936. Breathing a sigh of relief as he gazed up at his name - alongside which he added "1936" - Barrett stepped down from the six-foot ladder he had climbed to perform the task and said quietly, "It is now complete."

Barrett recalled during an interview how, as a student at the Massachusetts College of Art, he had been hired by the Class of 1927 to create the mural in tribute to Patrick McHugh, SJ, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He worked in his studio for six months, painting the images on canvases which were then mounted on the wall outside the Fulton Debating Room on Gasson's third floor.

Joseph Barrett signs his name to the St. Patrick mural in Gasson Hall 60 years after he painted it. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

The project was worthwhile but demanding for a young, impoverished art student, explained Barrett, who said his diet during that time consisted mainly of bananas, day-old raisin bread and peanut butter.

"When I was commissioned to paint the mural, I had so many things to do that I was wearing myself to the bone," he said. "As a result, I forgot to sign my name."

But Barrett did not forget his creation, even after he eventually settled in Florida, and visited the campus occasionally over the years to look at his work. This year, with his grandson's graduation providing an impetus to travel north, Barrett decided to take the opportunity to return to Gasson and add his signature.

University Historian Charles Donovan, SJ, and A&S Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, accompanied Barrett and his wife, Peggy, to the signing. Other family members in attendance included Barrett' s sister, Margaret, who modeled at age 15 for many of the figures in the mural.

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