Jacob Elshin mural is discovered at West Seattle High School in May 2000.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 7/11/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3441
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In May 2000, a three-panel mural painted by Jacob Elshin (1892-1976) in the 1930s is discovered at West Seattle High School after being lost for more than 25 years. The murals had disappeared from view after a school remodel in 1974. A search by a Seattle Public Schools archivist reveals the mural behind a cabinet filled with student art. The painted triptych depicts the first settlement at Alki. The three panels, each measuring five by nine feet, are titled Landing, Barter, and Logging.

Jacob Elshin was born in Russia in 1892 and fled the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. He arrived in Seattle in 1923. As part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the Works Progress Administration funded the Federal Artists Project to put artists back to work. The West Seattle project was Elshin's first mural. The panels display scenes of pioneer life -- from arrival, to trading with Native Americans, to harvesting the forest resources.

Elshin also painted murals for the University District Post Office (in 2000 out of public view) and for the Renton Post Office (in 2000 at the Highland Branch of the Renton Public Library). Elshin was then commissioned to do work for U.S. Treasury Department.

In 1939, the murals were displayed inside the entrance to West Seattle High School. They were relocated in 1954 as part of a school remodel. Twenty years later, in 1974, they were moved again and stored -- and apparently forgotten -- behind a storage cabinet. At the urging of WPA art historian Roger van Oosten, a diligent search by Seattle School archivist Eleanor Toews uncovered the treasure.

The murals were sent to the studio of Chiara Carcano for restoration. The three panels of the restored murals were unveiled at the Sesquicentennial Heritage Expo held at Seattle Center on November 12, 2001. They were reinstalled in the new West Seattle High School and officially unveiled on August 29, 2002.


Lynne K. Varner, "Inventory Reveals Valuable Mural At West Seattle High School," The Seattle Times, May 20, 2000, (www.seattletimes.com); "West Seattle High School Mural, Missing Since 1974, Is Being Restored," Seattle Public School website, (www.Seattleschools.org). See also Bernice L. Thomas, “Miners at Work: Depression-era Art in the Renton Post Office,” Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History 22, No. 4 (Winter 2008-09), 23-26.
Note: This essay was revised on September 5, 2002.

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