“Westward Ho!”


Jack Alfandre, Staff Writer

We walk under it and sit right below it nearly every day, munching on cafeteria meals and slurping down drinks, but do we truly notice it? 

What I am talking about is the mural displayed right above the entrance to the food lines in the middle of the cafeteria, called Westward Ho! by artist Jack Warren. I realized one day that the mural certainly has an interesting theme, so I dug a little deeper to find out more about it. I was able to compile some research with the help of Mr. Buchanan, who provided me with an article from the Hastings Historical Society, published in 2003 about Warren and the history of the mural. 

Jack A. Warren, born in 1886 to Indiana homesteaders, attended Wabash College where he prepared to receive a medical degree. However, Jack later decided he wanted to be an artist and became a political cartoonist during World War I. In 1920, Jack moved to Hastings with his wife and kids where he worked on set design for Western films being produced for Universal Films. He also created a Western-themed comic called “Pecos Bill.” In the 1930’s, he received a grant from the Works Project Administration to paint a mural portraying the development of the West, which now hangs in our school. The mural shows the development of the West over time, with the far past on on the left and the more recent past on the right. To my eye, it always appeared that the Native Americans were running from the settlers who are positioned towards the far right in the mural.

“[Warren] was very much involved in Western themes,” said Mr. Buchanan. “If you look at his previous artwork, they all address life in the West. He may have painted the mural in order to take advantage of the opportunity for artists during the New Deal,” added Mr. Buchanan.

I also asked Mr. Buchanan about the recent controversy about artwork and sculptures by white artists portraying Native Americans and my feeling about the Native Americans in the mural. Could this mural be destined for a similar fate to the sculpture outside of the Natural History Museum, which was recently removed due to criticism of racist portrayals of Native Americans and African Americans.  

“I don’t see anything objectionable in that mural as far as its depictions of Native Americans go,” he said.  He also added that the mural may actually carve out a new way of thinking about Native Americans: “If anything, it’s showing Native Americans leaving or escaping the settlers coming in behind them. I think [Warren] was pointing out the dilemma that Native Americans were facing as European Americans moved west over the course of the nineteenth century.”