Using the Artwork of Downtown St. Louis to Teach Your Children History

Migrate (Photo by Julia Cain)

Who says history lessons should be saved for the classroom? Downtown St. Louis’ ample public art offerings give parents a unique opportunity: introduce children to artwork to facilitate discussions on local history. Try starting at one of these three pieces.


Painted on the side of the long-vacant Cotton Belt Freight Depot, the 750-foot mural Migrate was created in 2014 by artists Nita Turnage and Hap Phillips with assistance from Tom Nagel. This bright and large piece is a good starting point for conversations on movement and color in artwork, and historical tie-ins can be found in the building’s history. Built in 1911, the Cotton Belt Freight Depot was once a bustling cotton trade hub in the Texas-Arkansas-Missouri trade route. Next time you spot this oversized mural from the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, consider starting a conversation about the importance of the St. Louis riverfront and its associated historical trade and commerce.

1400 N. 1st St.

Cornerstones of Courage and Culture

Since 1997, Cornerstones of Courage and Culture by Kenneth Calvert has memorialized six influential and important 19th century St. Louisans and serves as a symbol and reminder of African-American leaders of that era. Individuals featured include Colonel Charlton Tandy, Charles Turner, Elizabeth Keckley, Annie Malone, Thomas Million Turpin and the Reverend Moses Dickson. Due to extensive wall damage, this City Hall mural, located on the first floor, was replaced this September with large-scale panels depicting the same piece of artwork. When visiting the piece, conversation topics with your children are ample. Consider researching the history of each individual pictured for a long-term historical talk across a variety of topics, from the Civil War to jazz.

1200 Market St.

Peace and Vigilance

After spending more than a century atop the Old Post Office, the marble masterpiece Peace and Vigilance by Daniel Chester French was moved indoors in 1989 and a cement replica was placed in its former location. The original, however, was restored and placed inside the historic Old Post Office, a building which can easily lead to a variety of conversations on local history. The Old Post Office was originally created as one of five grand post-Civil War Federal buildings, necessary both to facilitate expansion during post-war Reconstruction and to act as a source of government pride to citizens. Use this as a jumping off point for conversations about the Civil War and St. Louis’ post-war history.

815 Olive St.