In 1936, artist John C. Lutz was commissioned to produce a 18-foot-long mural for the Harriet Beecher Stowe School, in honor of school founder Jennie Davis Porter, who had recently died. The mural was to depict “the development of the Negro race from the days of slavery to the time when Booker T. Washington led it.” Lutz displayed preliminary studies for the mural in late 1936, and the final result was unveiled in January 1937.
John Choram Lutz was born in Hickory, North Carolina, in 1908. By 1934, he was studying art in Cincinnati. An article titled “Talent Shown” in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1936 states that Lutz “has had so far very little training; to be exact he has had two years of study at the Art Academy Night School under Herman H. Wessell.”
By that June, Lutz was employed by the Works Progress Administration, and in this capacity he painted the mural for Stowe School. Lutz continued to be in the limelight for several years thereafter. After the flood of late January-February 1937, Lutz “portrayed his own people in the drawing “Water Rations” for the WPA. By 1939, Lutz was working on “preliminary sketches for the decoration of the Recreation Room of the Administration Building of the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority.”
In 1940, Lutz had two paintings reproduced in, The Negro in Art: A Pictorial Record of the Negro Artist and of the Negro Theme in Art, edited by Alain Locke. Also in 1940, he exhibited at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago.
Lutz experimented with sculpture, carving in wood and stone. In 1939, art critic Mary L. Alexander, writing in the Cincinnati Enquirer, was especially impressed by a “cut stone head of a young Negro.” Alexander wrote that “if we were to prophesy we would say that Lutz in the future will become a greater sculptor than a painter for this head is richly formed and cut directly into stone with great vitality.” Alexander also wrote:
“There is nothing spectacular about Lutz’s work, but rather a serene and simple naturalness which is all the more effective because it is deeply sincere. The sympathy he shows for the Negro race and the character he secures is refreshingly free from the exaggeration usually considered essential in the interpretation of Negro subjects.”
After 1941, news coverage of John C. Lutz dries up. His spouse Emma filed for divorce in 1946. John C. Lutz still appears under “artists” in the Cincinnati city directory at least as late as 1947, but he later moved away. He died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1988, at the age of 79.
The fate of the Lutz mural at Stowe School is unknown. The building is now in private hands, and it is possible that the mural still exists somewhere inside.