Murals at Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library in Washington, D.C.

The second floor’s children’s section has a small reading alcove with murals titled “Animal Circus” and “Animal Orchestra.” These whimsical paintings depict anthropomorphic animals in great detail—and they’re the early work of famed illustrator Aurelius Battaglia.

The Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library opened in 1925, one of three D.C. libraries built with funding from the Carnegie Corporation. Battaglia was commissioned in 1934 to paint murals in the library as a Public Works of Art Project (a New Deal program to employ artists). The scenes show a fantasy world. In the circus, a lion serves as the ringmaster and hippos are dressed up as ballerinas. In the orchestra, you can find a chimpanzee playing the cello and a long-eared rabbit playing the flute.

Not long after completing the mural, Battaglia took a job at Walt Disney Studios, where he worked from 1937 to 1941. During his time at Disney, he worked on animated movies including Dumbo, Fantasia, and Pinocchio. After leaving Disney, his career continued as a writer and illustrator for animated films and children’s books.

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