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Photograph of James McBurney’s 1924 painting, “The Barter,” in the library’s new quiet room.

Barter: Painting from Belmont Hotel

"Barter" is the title of the large 9' x 5' semicircular mural painting hanging over the fireplace in the Quiet Room at the Monona Public Library. It was painted in 1924, by James E. McBurney, for the Belmont Hotel (now the YWCA on the corner of East Mifflin and North Pinckney Streets). It was commissioned by Bailey-Kasson Company of Chicago, builders of the new hotel, and given to the Piper brothers, who were the owners of the hotel.

Mr. McBurney was a professional artist working in Chicago. The painting portrays the early French traders who came to Wisconsin and represents an imagined bartering episode between the Ho-Chunk and the traders on the site of an Indian village near Madison. McBurney chose this theme “as being particularly suited to a commercial men’s hotel” where salesmen would stay while soliciting business in the city.

The painting was plastered onto the wall in the lobby of the Belmont Hotel until 1966 when it was removed by the Vogel Brothers Construction Co. during the remodeling that created the YWCA. The mural was taken to Ludwig Neuhaus's studio to be removed from its plaster backing and preserved. At first the Wisconsin Historical Society was going to add it to their collection but they decided against that plan. The Vogel Brothers, two of which lived in Monona, offered it to the Monona Public Library, which was planning a new building at the time. The Library Board accepted the painting and the Monona Fine Arts Committee paid for the restoration. The Vogel Brothers provided the frame and mounting board. On completion of the new building in 1968, the mural was hung over the fireplace in the lower level Fireside Room.

When the Monona Public Library expanded its facilities in 2002 the mural was refurbished once again with a gift from John and Lynda Weinberger. It can be seen  over the fireplace in the Quiet Room in the new addition to the Library.

Ann Waidelich and Dorothy Haines