Illustrator and mural painter Dean Cornwell executed several exceptional commissions on Capitol Hill in Nashville during the Great Depression. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 5, 1892. Cornwell began his professional career as a cartoonist for the Louisville Herald but soon relocated to Chicago, where he worked in the art department of the Chicago Tribune and studied at the Art Institute. In 1915 he moved to New York City, where he studied under Harvey Dunn and became a successful illustrator for many national magazines.
Desiring to study mural painting, Cornwell traveled to London, where he served as an apprentice under the internationally recognized British muralist Frank Brangwyn. After his return to America Cornwell painted murals for several years at the Los Angeles Public Library and the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands, California. Other notable commissions include the Eastern Airlines Building in Rockefeller Plaza, the U.S. Post Office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Raleigh Room at the Hotel Warwick in New York City, and the General Motors Exhibition at the New York World's Fair in 1939.
In Tennessee Cornwell is best known for murals created for the Davidson County Courthouse in 1937 and for the Sevier State Office Building in 1941. The Public Works Administration funded the construction of both buildings during the New Deal era. The murals in the main lobby of the Davidson County Courthouse feature heroic figures representing Industry, Agriculture, Commerce, and Statesmanship superimposed over maps of Nashville and Davidson County. The Sevier State Office Building murals, titled The Discovery of Tennessee and The Development of Tennessee, depict important figures in Tennessee's history. Both murals were created under the auspices of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal cultural programs. Cornwell died December 4, 1960, in New York City.
Patricia J. Broder, Dean Cornwell, Dean of Illustrators (1978)