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ODOC asks public for help solving mural mystery

Monday, February 03, 2020

MCALESTER, Okla. – Blank walls are a shared canvas inside Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. The peeled paint and graffiti speak on behalf of every inmate who once spent time locked behind the steel and concrete of this maximum security prison. Randy Roden worked 23 years inside OSP guarding some of the state’s most notorious convicts. 

The old rotunda is full of stories – but non quite as colorful and gruesome as the tale of a German butcher. According to court documents dated 1899, Conrad Maas shot his wife multiple times with a Winchester shotgun just like this one. Roden recalled, “They called him the mad artist.” Conrad Maass died in prison back in 1936. But the artist left behind a treasure trove of paintings. 

His work encompassed a range of human emotion. Roden said, It was really detailed. I understand it was painted on mattress material and stuff.” Four giant murals – 10 by 20 feet each. “You’d have to have a big place like this to display them.” 

They hung in the rotunda for decades, but time and Mother Nature ultimately took a toll. According to Roden, “They had pigeon droppings on them. They was in really bad shape. One of the corners was starting to tear down on it.” 

The murals were eventually taken down, placed in storage and forgotten. Some of Conrad Maass’ smaller paintings now hang in homes and museums around McAlester. 

But recently – there was renewed interest in those massive murals. Department of Corrections administrators began searching for the paintings, in hopes of restoring and preserving a piece of Oklahoma history. 

A tip lead Director of Institutions Mike Carpenter to this Guthrie storage unit, where one mural was found stuffed in a garbage bag. “Of the known paintings in the rotunda that were sent out to be restored, this is the only one that has been found and returned to the agency. So, we would very much like to find the other three,” Carpenter said. 

Unless those paintings are recovered, all that remains are the memories of retired officers like Randy Roden and the inmates who spent time locked up inside OSP. 

But the DOC isn’t giving up hope someone can shed light on the mural mystery. According to Carpenter, “The ultimate goal is to get them restored and back into a frame and have them done in such a way that we would have another 100 years of history from these paintings for the agency.” 

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