United States post office murals

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"Mail Transportation" (1938) by Fletcher Martin, in the San Pedro, California, post office

United States post office murals are notable examples of New Deal art produced during the years 1934–43. They were commissioned through a competitive process by the United States Department of the Treasury. Some 1,400 murals were created for federal post office buildings in more than 1,300 U.S. cities. Murals still extant are the subject of efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to preserve and protect them.

History[edit]

"The Corn Parade" (1941) by Orr C. Fisher, in the Mount Ayr, Iowa, post office
"Rachel Silverthorne's Ride" (1938) by John W. Beauchamp, in the Muncy, Pennsylvania, post office
"Texas Farm" (1940) by Julius Woeltz, in the Elgin, Texas, post office
External video
Pittsburgh panorama 02538v.jpg
A Common Canvas- Somerset, Pennsylvania (2:36) Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
A Common Canvas- Renovo, Pennsylvania (4:46) Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

As one of the projects in the New Deal during the Great Depression in the United States, the Public Works of Art Project (1933–34) was developed to bring artist workers back into the job market and assure the American public that better financial times were on the way. In 1933, nearly $145 million in public funds was appropriated for the construction of federal buildings, such as courthouses, schools, libraries, post offices and other public structures, nationwide. Under the direction of the Public Works of Art Project, the agency oversaw the production of 15,660 works of art by 3,750 artists. These included 700 murals on public display.[1][pages needed]

With the ending of the Public Works of Art Project in the summer of 1934, it was decided that the success of the program should be extended by founding the Section of Painting and Sculpture (renamed the Section of Fine Arts in 1938) under the U.S. Treasury Department.[1] The Section of Painting and Sculpture was initiated to commission 1,400 murals in federal post offices buildings in more than 1,300 cities across America.[2]

The Section focused on reaching as many American citizens as possible. Since the local post office seemed to be the most frequented government building by the public, the Section requested that the murals, approximately 12' by 5' oil paintings on canvas, be placed on the walls of the newly constructed post offices exclusively. It was recommended that 1% of the money budgeted for each post office be set aside for the creation of the murals.[2][3]

The Treasury Relief Art Project (1935–38), which provided artistic decoration for existing Federal buildings, produced a smaller number of post office murals.[4] TRAP was established with funds from the Works Progress Administration. The Section supervised the creative output of TRAP, and selected a master artist for each project. Assistants were then chosen by the artist from the rolls of the WPA Federal Art Project.[5]:62–63

The Section and the Treasury Relief Art Project were overseen by Edward Bruce, who had directed the Public Works of Art Project. They were commission-driven public work programs that employed artists to beautify American government buildings, strictly on the basis of quality.[5]:58–59[6] This contrasts with the work-relief mission of the Federal Art Project (1935–43) of the Works Progress Administration, the largest of the New Deal art projects. So great was its scope and cultural impact that the term "WPA" is often mistakenly used to describe all New Deal art, including the U.S. post office murals.[5]:63–64[6]

The murals are the subject of efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to preserve and protect them. This is particularly important and problematical as some of them have disappeared or deteriorated. Some are installed in buildings that are worth far less than the artwork.[7]

Process[edit]

Whereas the Public Works of Art Project paid artists hourly wages, the Section of Fine Arts program awarded contracts to artists based on works entered in both regional and national competitions. For this purpose, the country was divided into 16 regions.[8]

Artists submitted sketches anonymously to a committee of their peers for judging. The committees, composed of art critics, fellow artists and architects, selected the finest works. These were then sent, along with the artists' names in sealed envelopes, to the Section of Fine Arts for ultimate selection.[1] This anonymity was to ensure that all competing artists had an equal opportunity of winning a commission. However, many local painters felt they were being kept out of the process, with the majority of contracts going to the better known artists.[9]

Artists were asked to paint in an "American scene" style, depicting ordinary citizens in a realistic manner. Abstract and modern art styles were discouraged. Artists were also encouraged to produce works that would be appropriate to the communities where they were to be located and to avoid controversial subjects.[10] Projects were closely scrutinized by the Section for style and content, and artists were paid only after each stage in the creative process was approved.[5]

Controversies[edit]

The selection of out-of-state artists sometimes caused controversy, such as stereotypes of rural people being portrayed merely as hicks and hayseeds and not having the murals express their cultural values and work ethics. Many residents of small towns, most notably in the Southern states, resented the portrayal of rural lifestyles by artists who had never visited the areas where their artwork would be displayed.[1][page needed]

The controversy was of particularly acute in Arkansas, where 19 post offices received murals, with two post offices, one in Berryville, Carroll County and another in Monticello, Drew County, receiving sculpture. For seven decades following the Civil War, Arkansas had been perceived as the epitome of poverty and illiteracy by the rest of the nation. Many Arkansans had dealt with hardship and tribulation on a daily basis and the coming of the Depression had not made life easier. Although the sketches of such renowned artists as Thomas Hart Benton and Joseph P. Vorst were based on actual events and people encountered during their travels across the state, they sometimes focused on the worst aspects of life in these rural towns.[8]

This was not the legacy that Arkansans wished to leave their children and grandchildren. They wanted the murals to give hope to the younger generation in overcoming adversity, and provide inspiration for a brighter future with better things to come. In some instances, artists were asked to submit multiple drawings before being accepted by the community.[1][page needed] When approval was given by the local residents on the artists’ final sketches, work on the murals proceeded, much to the satisfaction of all those involved.[3]

Notable artists[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Marling, Karal Ann (1982). Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post Office Murals in the Great Depression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816636730. 
  2. ^ a b Broun, Elizabeth. "Exhibitions/American Art". americanart.si.edu. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Park, Marlene; Martkowitz, Gerald (1984). Democratic Vistas: Post Office Art in the New Deal (First ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 978-0877223481. ISBN 0877223483. 
  4. ^ "New Deal Artwork: GSA's Inventory Project". General Services Administration. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  5. ^ a b c d O'Connor, Francis V. (Autumn 1969). "The New Deal Art Projects in New York". The American Art Journal (Kennedy Galleries, Inc.) 1 (2): 58–79. JSTOR 1593876. 
  6. ^ a b Raynor, Patricia (October–December 1997). "Articles from EnRoute: Off The Wall: New Deal Post Office Murals". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Off The Wall 6 (4). Retrieved April 1, 2015. 
  7. ^ Leonard, Devin (September 20, 2013). "Postal Service Makes Deals to Rescue New Deal-Era Murals". Bloomberg Business News. Retrieved April 1, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Smith, Sandra Taylor; Christ, Mark E. Arkansas Post Offices and the Treasury Department's Section Art Program, 1935-1942 (PDF). Little Rock: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  9. ^ Parisi, Phillip (2004). The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. 
  10. ^ David Lembeck. "Rediscovering the People's Art: New Deal Murals in Pennsylvania’s Post Offices". Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission: 2014.
  11. ^ "Post Office Mural – Lewistown IL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  12. ^ "Post Office Mural – Goodland KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  13. ^ "Post Office Mural – Deming NM". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  14. ^ "Post Office and Federal Courthouse Mural – Marquette MI". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  15. ^ "Post Office Mural – Onawa IA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  16. ^ "Public Library Mural – Enterprise AL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  17. ^ "Post Office Mural – Pacific Grove CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  18. ^ "Pettaquamscutt Historical Society Mural – Kingston RI". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-04-25. 
  19. ^ "Post Office Mural – La Jolla CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  20. ^ "Post Office Mural – Kennebunk ME". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  21. ^ "Post Office Mural – Crestline OH". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  22. ^ "Post Office Murals – Allentown PA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  23. ^ a b c d Murals. "Living New Deal". livingnewdeal.org. p. 1. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  24. ^ "Post Office Mural – Rushville IL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-04-25. 
  25. ^ "Post Office Murals – Green Bay WI". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  26. ^ "Post Office and Court House Mural – Fort Scott KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  27. ^ "Post Office Mural – Manheim PA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-04-25. 
  28. ^ "Post Office (former) Mural – Venice CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  29. ^ "Post Office Mural – Houston MS". Living New Deal. Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2016-05-07. 
  30. ^ "Vidalia City Hall Mural – Vidalia GA". The Living New Deal. Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2016-05-11. 
  31. ^ "Indians at the Post Office". postalmuseum.si.edu. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 9 December 2014. 
  32. ^ "Post Office Mural – Canoga Park CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  33. ^ a b "Post Office Mural – Martinez CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  34. ^ "Post Office – Clarion IA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  35. ^ "Post Office (former) Mural – Ozark AL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  36. ^ "Post Office Murals – Safford AZ". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  37. ^ "Post Office Mural – Cambridge MN". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  38. ^ Carlisle, John C. A Simple and Vital Design: The Story of the Indiana Post Office Murals. Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, 1995 pp. 34-35
  39. ^ "Post Office Mural – Luverne AL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  40. ^ "Post Office Mural – Bronson MI". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  41. ^ "Post Office Mural – Lancaster NY". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  42. ^ a b c "Mural-2/38". livingnewdeal.org. Living New Deal. p. 2. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  43. ^ "Post Office Mural – Eutaw AL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  44. ^ "Post Office Mural – Berwyn IL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  45. ^ "Post Office Mural – Cresco IA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  46. ^ "Courthouse Murals – Wichita KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  47. ^ "Tracy Historical Museum Murals – Tracy CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  48. ^ "Post Office Mural – Van Buren AR". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  49. ^ "Post Office Relief – Iron River MI". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-24. 
  50. ^ "Post Office Bas Relief – Whitinsville MA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-24. 
  51. ^ "Post Office Wood Carving – Swarthmore PA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-24. 
  52. ^ Petteys, Chris, "Dictionary of Women Artists: An international dictionary of women ratites born before 1900", G.K. Hall & Co., Boston, 1985
  53. ^ "Post Office (former) Mural – Magnolia AR". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  54. ^ "Post Office Mural – Anthony KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  55. ^ "Post Office Mural – Seneca KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  56. ^ "Post Office (former) frescos – Beverly Hills CA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  57. ^ "Ariel Rios Federal Building: Kent Murals – Washington DC". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  58. ^ "Post Office Mural – Eureka KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-04-25. 
  59. ^ "Post Office Mural – Bay Minette AL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  60. ^ "Joel W. Solomon Post Office and Courthouse Mural – Chattanooga TN". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  61. ^ Introduction. "Indians at the Post Office". postal museum.si.edu. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  62. ^ "Post Office (former) Mural – Amherst OH". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-24. 
  63. ^ "Post Office Mural – Dardanelle AR". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  64. ^ "Post Office Mural – Wynne AR". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  65. ^ "West Scranton Post Office Mural – Scranton PA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  66. ^ "Post Office Mural – Altavista VA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  67. ^ "Carl Morris: History of Religions". Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Retrieved October 16, 2015. 
  68. ^ "Post Office Mural – Rye NY". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-04-25. 
  69. ^ "Post Office Mural – Piggott AR". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  70. ^ "Daniel Rhodes Mural – Storm Lake IA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  71. ^ "Burleson County Courthouse Mural – Caldwell TX". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  72. ^ "Post Office (former) Murals – Tallahassee FL". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  73. ^ "National Archives, Central Plains Region Murals – Kansas City MO". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  74. ^ "Post Office Mural – New Rockford ND". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  75. ^ "U.S. Post Office and Courthouse: Van Veen Mural – Pittsburgh PA". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-29. 
  76. ^ "Post Office Mural – Okemah OK". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  77. ^ "Post Office Mural – Kingman KS". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-22. 
  78. ^ Carlisle, John C., "A Simple and Vital Design: The Story of the Indiana Post Office Murals", Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, 1995

Further reading[edit]

  • Harris, Jonathon. Federal Art and National Culture: The Politics of Identity in New Deal America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Parisi, Philip. The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2004.
  • Smith, Bradley. The USA: A History in Art. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1975.

External links[edit]