|Owner||Carnegie Mellon University|
When architect B. Kenneth Johnstone was designing the lobby of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, on the campus of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), he envisioned a simple work of art hanging against the subdued red marble wall welcoming students from Frew Street. He awarded the commission to Tech professor Robert Lepper, who instead proposed a complex mural sandblasted directly into the stone. The result, Reliefs, still meets graduate students entering the building, which is now known as the Tepper School of Business.
Architecturally, centralized meetings areas such as the lobby grew from the progressive curriculum of the school, which gave students great freedoms to determine their studies. Having spent a year at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, Lepper felt he had some understanding of the goal of industrial administration. His mural shows how the internal workings of a corporation can have global impacts. The sweep of the mural across the wall was intended to represent the complexity of industrial policy.
The first graduate program of its kind in the country, the GSIA was founded in 1949 with a $6 million gift from William Larimer Mellon Sr., founder of the Gulf Oil Corp. Visually, the mural spreads outward from a bronze bust of Mellon resting on a pedestal in front of the wall, beside a statement of purpose from Mellon: “Industrial opportunity means opportunity to create.” Using energetic horizontal and diagonal lines, Lepper connects a small rendering of the graduate school building at the center of the mural to pictorial representations of scientific and technological research (on the left), world economics (above) and social change (to the right). “The total aims at expression of the relation between the internal activity of administering business enterprise and the external influence of social forces,” Lepper explained in his design proposal. Given the Mellon family’s history in resource development, the mural includes several explicit references to the oil and natural gas industries, such as a drilling rig burrowing deep into a hostile geological formation and a fractioning column used for refining, as well as implicit symbols representing the global search for new reserves of energy. The mural also references the Mellon family’s early interests in real estate, lumber and railroads.
A native of Aspinwall, Robert Lepper (1906-1991) graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1927 and returned as faculty member in 1930. He was instrumental in founding the School of Industrial Design and influenced a generation of artists, including Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein and Mel Bochner. Lepper designed murals for post offices in Grayling, Michigan and Caldwell, Ohio, as well as for the University of West Virginia. He retired from Carnegie Mellon University in 1975.