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Architecture Feature: Edward Trumbull in Pittsburgh

By Albert M. Tannler

“Moses” from Edward Trumbull’s ceiling painting in the Supreme Court Room, City-County Building.

Edward Trumbull (1884-1968) was born in Michigan. He studied painting at the Art Students’ League of New York. He subsequently worked in London circa 1911 as an assistant to Frank Brangwyn.[1] According to an interview in the Pittsburgh Index in 1917, Trumbull was recommended to Henry J. Heinz by British painter Sir Alfred East (1849-1913) and received the commission to paint murals for the Heinz administration building in Pittsburgh.[2] He returned to the USA in 1911; he lived and worked in Pittsburgh between 1912 and 1920.

Trumbull exhibited sketches for “Decoration in the New Administration Building of the H. J. Heinz Company” at the 1912 Pittsburgh Architectural Club exhibition.[3] He participated at the 1912 and 1915 exhibitions of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (founded in 1910 and still active). In 1915 he painted two murals—“William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” and “The Steel Industries of Pittsburgh”—for the Pennsylvania Building at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco designed by architect Henry Hornbostel (1867-1961), who practiced in both New York and Pittsburgh. Three artworks—“Chinese Flamingo,” “Royal Dodo Bird,” and “Midsummer”—were displayed at the Pittsburgh Architectural Club exhibition of 1916-17.

Trumbull moved to New York City but continued to collaborate with Hornbostel on Pittsburgh projects, painting murals for the Supreme Court Room in the City-County Building (1923), the Eugene Strassburger residence in Squirrel Hill (1928-30), and the Grant Building lobby (1931). Trumbull’s acclaimed Grant Building mural, “The Three Rivers,” is believed to be entombed above a dropped ceiling, but his Supreme Court Room murals and ceiling paintings are breathtaking: neither as impressionistic nor as boldly colored as Frank Brangwyn’s murals, they are prodigy worthy of a master muralist.[4]

In New York City Trumbull executed the façade terra cotta bas relief on the Chanin Building, the ceiling fresco “Transport and Human Endeavor” in the Chrysler Building lobby, and murals in the Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Grand Central Terminal (1912; Guastavino tile vaulting[5]). He painted murals in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Select Chronological Bibliography

Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annual Catalogues 1912, 1915.

Pittsburgh Architectural Club Exhibition catalogs 1912, 1916-17

McCord, Myra Webb. “An Atelier That is Different: Edward Trumbull’s Unusual Workshop at His East End Home—Murals Are Done In An Atmosphere Remote From Pittsburgh’s Humdrum Life—Mills Offer Great Inspiration.” The Index 36:1 (January 6, 1917), 5, 15.

Kidney, Walter C. Henry Hornbostel: An Architect’s Master Touch. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 2002, 46, 145,168, 169, 173, 230.

Horner, Libby. Frank Brangwyn: A Mission to Decorate Life. London: Fine Arts Society/Liss Fine Art, 2006.

[1] Horner 2006 shows a photograph of Brangwyn and Trumbull in the studio [116]. She notes: “Whatever qualities Trumbull may have had as an artist were forgotten when Brangwyn discovered Trumbull was a bigamist.” [242]. See “Miss Dreier Finds She is Not a Wife: Edward Trumbull, Artist, Not Legally Free When He Married Brooklyn Society Girl,” New York Times, 22 August 1911.

[2] Myra Webb McCord, “An Atelier That is Different: Edward Trumbull’s Unusual Workshop at His East End Home—Murals Are Done In An Atmosphere Remote From Pittsburgh’s Humdrum Life—Mills Offer Great Inspiration,” The Index 36:1 (January 6, 1917), 5, 15.

[3] Edward Trumbull’s Heinz Plant murals have been preserved at the Heinz History Center, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, but are not on display. I am grateful to Kathleen Wendell for this information.

[4] Trumbull murals in Hornbostel buildings are illustrated in Walter C. Kidney, Henry Hornbostel: An Architect’s Master Touch (Pittsburgh, 2002), 46, 145, 169, 173.

[5] See John Ochsendorf, Guastavino Vaulting, 140-141.

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