The Worcester East Middle School murals were commissioned by Worcester’s Public School Art League. The funding for these murals was provided by the St. Wulstan Society, a local organization in charge of distributing funds for arts education in Worcester. The Art League’s Activities Committee determined the murals’ subject, which focuses on Worcester’s early history. Jenne Magafan was one of fourteen artists who competed for the commission.  Her murals portray Jonas Rice (1672-1753), Worcester’s first permanent settler of European descent, first schoolmaster, and first selectman. Magafan painted Jonas Rice, First Settler in Worcester and Jonas Rice, First School Teacher in 1948. A year later, Magafan painted The Classroom of Jonas Rice and The Election of Jonas Rice as Selectman at a Town Meeting. Magafan’s work reflects elements of the early Renaissance mural tradition as well as modern movements like Cubism. Magafan’s murals focus on community life, a theme that was emphasized in murals commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts as well as other government organizations. 

Oral History

Sarah Valente Interviewed by Gabriella Grilla
I’m originally from New Jersey and didn’t know much about Worcester, had no idea what I was coming too, and, you know, I feel like Worcester gets a bad rap for no reason. Often times I think it’s because people don’t take the time to explore Worcester and I remember my freshman year, somebody, it might have been Jan Donahugh, one of the local city officials told me to “get lost in Worcester”. At first I was a little scared about what (s)he meant. That’s so scary, like, I didn’t know where Worcester is or where things are in Worcester. So I’m going to get lost, what does that even mean? And I feel like that definitely stuck with me the next few years at Holy Cross. While at Holy Cross I developed these passions for chemistry and art. I had always had a passion for art; it’s one of my lifetime things. And almost essentially stumbled on the Holy Cross field of art conservation and through that to research the field of art conservation and a set of murals at Worcester East Middle School that needed conservation. So it was through that project that really I, well it wasn’t forced, but it was necessary for me to go out in Worcester and really see everything and really get to know people that wanted to help. That’s the thing about Worcester, I’m continually really happy to find that individuals are so open to helping you no matter where you’re coming from and what background you come from. Worcester is definitely a place for beginnings, whether you’re a college freshman walking onto one of the many campuses around Worcester or you’re a refugee, Syrian refugee, or someone looking to find a startup or get their business going in Worcester. I think that’s what my experience with Worcester has been it’s an open place for people to get lost and then find themselves. It’s really strange, as corny as that sounds. Because of that Worcester is very near and dear to my heart and throughout my time at Holy Cross.

My favorite indoor mural is Jenny Magafan’s at Worcester East Middle, her set on Jonas Rice. Not only for its historical value, I mean it has to do with the founding of Worcester, which is awesome. And for the fact that it’s so close to Jonas’s actual home is, so that’s really cool. My favorite outdoor mural to date, actually, I really love the newest mural at the YWCA wall. The maiden, mother, crone mural, by Alice Miserachi, I believe was her name. I mean, not only from a gender identity perspective, being female I love seeing females represented in a positive way, and the art work I think is absolutely beautiful, and all the themes that it is exploring. So I really like that one. I also love that it was part of a youth empowerment program for, I think, Girl’s Choice. So I guess I love that mural for not only aesthetic reasons but also for where it’s coming from and what it’s ideas are starting among so many people, so the dialogue its opening with other people. There’s going to be so many new murals in Worcester, every new one is more and more exciting so it’s kinda hard to choose.

Jenny Magafan’s mural is located at Worcester East Middle School, it commemorates Jonas Rice, one of Worcester’s first permanent settlers and ultimately the founder of Worcester. The murals depicted are (eight) scenes from Jonas Rice’s life. It turns out that he was a school teacher, so there’s this one mural “Jonas Rice, First Schoolteacher”, that shows Jonas Rice and some kids in a camping setting. Another mural shows Jonas Rice as first selectman, and then another one of him and some kids outside of the schoolhouse and another with his family. This mural is particularly exciting for Worcester’s culture, or heritage, not only because it celebrates Worcester’s founding but also it demonstrates multiple groups coming together to really make it happen but also today, to take care of it. So when the mural was first installed in 1948 and 49 there was a set of two murals and Jenny got asked to paint two murals first, and that was “Jonas Rice, First Schoolteacher” and “Jonas Rice, First Settler”. And so those were the ’48 murals. So she was to invited to paint two more, and those are the two other murals. They were funded in part by the PTA of the time, Saint Wilson Society, at that time that was a literary society for men and has now developed into a group of people who has these wonderful presentations or like to have these wonderful talks, Jim Welu is actually a memory of the Wilson Society and he was my adviser. But they also used to look over a fund by this woman who used to live in Worcester, but she was really helpful to the art community. The Saint Wilson Society, the PTA, and the arts council of the time had ran this competition, this art competition, where thirteen artists submitted designs and Jenny Magafan happened to be the winner. Not only is that phenomenal for like a woman in art flag right there, it also celebrated her previous accomplishments. She was a WPA artist, so she has a few, I think seven murals, out West and they were all funded bby the WPA section of fine arts. And so that demonstrates Worcester’s national connections and also again demonstrating how humble people are and willing to help each other willing to collaborate. Bringing it to today, the project brought together a individuals from city officials to local arts non-profits to people from the Worcester Art Museum and students at Worcester East Middle and the public schools and teachers at the public schools. The project literally tumbled into something huge and it was just, it was honestly just a good example of how the Worcester community cares for itself and cares for all the individuals especially in the art community. That’s really been my experience with the art community is that it’s a very supportive environment and people like collaborating, working together and seeing things happen. And I feel that particular group; there are the ones I have the most experiences with. They really do have a passion for Worcester, like no other. Jenny Magafan murals gave me the opportunity to discover where my passions lied within the art world. I found that art conservation wasn’t for me, I did find that I love working with kids because I was able to work with the art club when it came to installing new mural after talking about the historic significance of Jenny Magafan’s mural, doing a little education thing with them. This piece of art was my way of becoming part of the Worcester community.


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Cite As

“JONAS RICE MURAL BY JENNE MAGAFAN,” Worcester in 50, accessed January 19, 2019,

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