Gertrude Du Brau, 1890-1966
The Cumberland artist who painted the mural on the interior of the Cumberland City Hall rotunda was Gertrude Du Brau of the Du Brau Art Studio of Cumberland. Gertrude’s father, Herman Du Brau, was born in Peltz, Prussia in 1865, graduated from the Royal Arts Academy in Berlin, with the title "Master of Arts" and came to America, and Baltimore, in 1892. Gertrude, born in 1890, attended the Maryland Institute of Art and Design in Baltimore, and received additional training at the Royal Academy in Leipzig and the Dusseldorf Academy. The Du Braus would relocate to Cumberland in 1913. Among their joint local artistic efforts are the Masonic Temple artwork in 1912 and the artwork and remodeling of the Allegany Court House in 1913.
It was Gertrude who undertook the Cumberland City Hall mural. It took her only three months and the mural is believed to be the only depiction of both the first and last times George Washington commanded troops in the field. Gertrude signed and completed the mural on November 5, 1921.
Gertrude's father, Herman, died in 1922. She remained in Cumberland and continued to paint until the Great St. Patrick's Day Flood of March 17, 1936 destroyed her gift shop and art studio. At that point Gertrude Du Brau Kogler and her husband returned to Germany. They remained there during World War II. It was during this period her husband died and Gertrude lost most of her possessions, including her paintings. Gertrude Du Brau Kogler returned to America in 1955 and resided in Tacoma, Washington until her death.
The following are excerpts from an extensive research paper entitled Something Still Remains Undone: The Du Brau Family and the Transatlantic project of Progressive Civic Life in Maryland by Adam Thomas, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, May 26, 2011. Note the Washington Post reference to Gertrude Du Brau as "The Cumberland Girl" in the very last sentence:
The more I researched the more numerous and notable the Du Braus’ projects became: Cumberland City Hall; the Lyric Theater in Baltimore; and the gigantic Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House, at the time of its construction among the largest auditoriums in the world. The twists and turns took me from the Maryland Institute College of Art to Royal Academies in Berlin and Leipzig. The more I learned the more two questions nagged me: How did artists trained in some of the best schools in Europe and America, who created grand interior spaces in northeastern urban centers, come to paint murals in a tiny town over seventy miles from the nearest major city? And why were these artists and their artwork so utterly forgotten?
From 1892 until 1936, Herman and Gertrude Du Brau engaged in a project to bring progressive civic life to small towns and cities across Maryland and beyond. They aided in the transformation of interior spaces not from local to metropolitan but from local and metropolitan to cosmopolitan. The Du Braus transferred the progressive iconography of participatory citizenship and comprehensive spatial planning aesthetic from Berlin and the metropolises of Europe, through Baltimore, to its hinterlands in the very farthest reaches of western Maryland.
Herman and Gertrude Du Brau were prolific artists, with a seamless creative spirit spanning generations and gender. Residing in Baltimore from 1892 until 1913 and in Cumberland, Maryland, from that time until 1936, the father-daughter team may have created or remodeled hundreds of interiors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina. Their clients included county and municipal governments, schools, churches, social organizations, hotels, retail businesses, theaters, and even private homeowners. Given that each project generally involved a number of original bas-relief plaster casts, ornate cornices and capitals, elaborate decorative elements, in situ murals and mounted canvases, the Du Braus’ individual artistic works probably numbered into the thousands. And as if the shear breadth and scope of their artistic accomplishments were not enough, the Du Braus were among the most learned interior decorators practicing in Maryland at the turn of the twentieth century.
In many respects Gertrude eclipsed her father in education and artistic accomplishment. Her teachers recognized her as a child prodigy, often calling on Gertrude “to make sample drawings for the other children. She began creating public murals with her father at age thirteen and enrolled in Baltimore’s prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) at age fourteen.
Among her classmates, Gertrude Du Brau was known for two things: her work ethic and her hair. “She is attractive,” writes the class chronicler in the 1909 yearbook, “because of the classic arrangement of her hair.” In an alphabetic listing of class attributes, “D is for Du Brau with hair done ornately.” Yet there was something more to this observation than just light-hearted banter. Gertrude and the stoic subjects of her allegorical murals often shared the same hairstyle.
Beyond her coiffure, classmates praised Gertrude Du Brau’s work ethic. “This is to testify that Gertrude, art student, is an ardent worker,” writes the class chronicler. “Quiet, thoughtful, studious, but not lacking in jollity, she makes an interesting companion at all times.”
The most profound statement of Gertrude’s work ethic found in her yearbook was the motto placed beside her picture, the opening couplet of a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem: “Labor with what zeal we will, / Something still remains undone.”
In 1924 she completed a seven-by-ten-foot mural for the New Cumberland Hotel, in Bridgeton, New Jersey. “Tea Brewing in Greenwich” would have brought a smile to her old mentor, Charles Yardley Turner: it depicted the moment when colonial patriots, disguised as Indians, burned boxes of British tea to protest unfair taxes. Gertrude entered the mural in a competition against artists from New York City, Philadelphia, and across the northeast. She won first place, “it being selected by unanimous vote.” Even though she was close to thirty-four years old, the Washington Post headline still referred to Gertrude as a 'Cumberland Girl.'
Text - Adam Thomas and Albert Feldstein
The photographs are left to right:
Gertrude Du Brau graduation yearbook page with portrait, 1909.
From Palette & Pen Class Book, 1909, Maryland Institute
MICA Archives, Decker Library
[Class in Main Building court with Charles Yardley Turner, ca. 1909].
MICA Archives, Decker Library
It is possible that the standing female student is Gertrude Du Brau.
Thanks to the Maryland Institute College of Arts for permission to use these photographs.
More on Gertrude Du Brau can be found on the website of the Historic Colonial Hotel in Meyersdale, PA that also contained a mural by the Du Brau family. The information is used with their permission.
Maryland Institute College of Art
Allegany County (Md.)--Biography; Allegany County (Md.)--Women.
Allegany County, (Md.)