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Harry Louis Freund was a muralist who became famous for his depictions of life in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas during the 1930s. His artwork is identified with the American scene painters and muralists, such as John Stuart Curry, Grant Wood, and Thomas Hart Benton. He was instrumental in establishing art departments at two Arkansas institutions, Hendrix College and Little Rock Junior College (now University of Arkansas at Little Rock), as well as Stetson University in De Land, Florida. He and his wife, Elsie Bates Freund, founded the Summer Art School in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) and helped shape that resort town as a year-round community for artists and writers.
Louis Freund was born on September 16, 1905, in Clinton, Missouri. His father died while Louis was young. He was inspired to become an artist by his mother, who painted copies of other paintings; an uncle who painted miniature portraits; and a cousin, Evelyn Sturgis.
Freund attended the University of Missouri at Columbia from 1923 to 1925 and Washington University in St. Louis from 1925 to 1929. In 1929, he received the E.H. Wuerpel travel scholarship for one year of foreign travel and study; while in Paris, he studied at the Colarossi Academy and La Grande Chaumiere.
Freund returned to the United States and, from 1930 to 1932, worked as a professional artist in New York City. He found work with the federally supported fine arts section of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and began competing for mural commissions. Freund traveled through the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri for months to record the vanishing culture of that area. He painted murals on post office and bank buildings in Heber Springs (Cleburne County), Pocahontas (Randolph County), Eureka Springs, Rogers (Benton County), and Harrison (Boone County), as well as in Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri. Freund is said to have sent 100 paintings to Washington DC. Freund was also a draftsman, easel painter, and printmaker, and his work followed five broad themes: European landscape, American genre, protest against war, regional landscape, and Christian subject matter. Freund’s style sought for emotional impact in the use of dramatic heavy outlines, somber colors, and compositions with strong diagonal axis. His style in the beginning was light and illustrative and seemed more adventuristic in terms of expression, whereas his later works followed great traditions in artistic styles. As in early Renaissance painting, Freund tended to compress time and space elements in order to capture everything in a cohesive moment—an ability useful in mural painting.
In 1938, Freund was hired as artist-in-residence at Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County), where he served as a resident artist until 1941 and as the head of the art department until 1946. He then bought the former home of prohibitionist Carry Nation in Eureka Springs and married artist Elsie Bates there in 1939. They moved into the historic building, where they also established the Summer Art School of the Ozarks.
From 1940 to 1942, Freund was also an artist-in-residence at Little Rock Junior College under the Association of American Colleges, an organization that helped place artists and other figures of the humanities in colleges and universities throughout the country.
Freund was drafted during World War II and served in the Army as a conscientious objector from 1943 to 1945, painting murals for the war department. He spent his time at Camp Pike (now Camp Robinson) in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Camp Chaffee in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). The purpose of his murals was to help illiterate recruits learn what they would be doing in the process of Army training. Following the war, he traveled through the Midwest as an itinerant portrait-painter.
A particularly harsh winter inspired Freund to apply for a position at Stetson University in De Land, Florida. In 1949, he became a teacher at Stetson, and from 1951 to 1959, he was chairman of Stetson’s Department of Art. From 1959 to1967, he continued on as Stetson’s artist-in-residence, and during that time, he and his wife spent their summers in Eureka Springs. After retiring in 1967, he worked to establish the Eureka Springs Art Gallery and took an active role in community art projects.
In 1991, Governor William Jefferson Clinton and the Arkansas Arts Council recognized Freund for his “distinguished accomplishments, services and deeds.” In 1995, the Freunds moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he often regaled visitors with stories about his art career. Freund made a great effort to distribute his work to churches and public facilities in his last years. Arkansas institutions that received gifts of his art include the Arkansas Arts Center, the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Central Arkansas Library System, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the University of Central Arkansas, Hospice of Arkansas, and the Eureka Springs Historical Museum. In Florida, works went to Stetson University and the DeLand Art Museum; in Missouri, to the Springfield Art Museum, the College of the Ozarks, Central College of Fayette, and the Historic Museum in Clinton.
Freund died on December 22, 1999, in Little Rock and is buried in Eureka Springs.
For additional information:Louis and Elsie Freund Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Wolfe, Townsend. “Louis Freund Paintings.” Exhibition Catalogue. Little Rock: Arkansas Arts Center, 1991.
Alan Du BoisBenton, Arkansas
Last Updated 9/16/2011
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