Thursday, August 26, 2021

Today I learned.... that the Post Office benefitted from the Works Progress Administration federal program, where 1,371 murals were painted about the local history of about 1,300 cities and towns, and the paintings were hung in, or painted on the walls of post offices.

 
The murals celebrated local industry and historical events, but today these murals often go unnoticed, almost like real-life Easter eggs of art hidden across the country,” writes Texas-based photographer Justin Hamel who has documented nearly 375 of these works of civic art while traveling across the United States. About 900 to 1,000 paintings still remain, though some are now in libraries due to the bankruptcy of the USPS and closing of some post offices over the last decade

 According to him, the local industries that are depicted in many of the paintings still drive the economies of the communities they grace: cotton in Camilla, Georgia, for example, or wheat in Anthony, Kansas. 



Notice the uniformity of the doors, windows, and lettering - though over time, some of the lettering for Bulletin and Postmaster, have been removed. 

The federal government program responsible for the post office murals was the Section of Painting and Sculpture (later called the Section of Fine Arts). It was under the tutelage of the United States Treasury Department in Washington, DC. During the 1930s, the Great Depression caused rampant unemployment, hunger, and anxiety across the United States and Connecticut. President Franklin Roosevelt, to show citizens that the federal government could still get things done, built hundreds of new post offices (hence the uniformity).

 Seeing a new government building constructed in the center of town helped boost the morale of local citizens and showed that the distant federal government had not forgotten about them. The Section of Painting and Sculpture decided which of those post offices got artwork inside.



 Locomotive Repair Operation by Harold Lechman in the Renovo, Pennsylvania, post office shows six men working in the Pennsylvania Railroad repair shops, that are now no longer there.



Between 1934 and 1943, the federal government placed murals in twenty-three Connecticut post offices. Taking the form of both paintings and sculptures, these murals were intended to be of high quality and depicted subject matter that was quaint and comforting. The government wanted these murals to spark an interest in art and offer people an uplifting distraction from the troubles of the Great Depression. 

https://connecticuthistory.org/hope-on-the-wall-connecticuts-new-deal-post-office-murals/

See the series that Justin photographed at  https://www.justinmhamel.com/postofficemurals?fbclid=IwAR2qr_A9XOpDFUZgXxrfMMRW3HmoBq80LQEDyY8M3t9f4k_A-mR4wzVya8U#1

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/post-office-murals

The majority of relocated murals are in local museums or libraries. Examples of these are the murals in Borger, Texas (Hutchenson County Museum); Brevard, North Carolina (library); Enterprise, Alabama (library); Fort Pierce, Florida (City Hall); Idabel, Oklahoma (Museum of the Red River); Lamesa, Texas (community center); and Sebring, Florida (library). The most interesting location a mural now hangs is in a hotel suite in Covington, Louisiana.

All wrapped into one, it is undoubtedly the largest public art project in the US.

In 2019, the post office made a series of stamps to show some of the murals: https://about.usps.com/newsroom/local-releases/co/2019/0410-post-office-murals.htm  and https://www.amazon.com/Office-Murals-Forever-Stamps-Release/dp/B07QLHJJM2


A photographer who chooses to locate, photograph, and document a specific thing, is something I've only found a couple of times that has something to do with the vehicle world, so that I feel it's part of what I blog about, but you might remember the rail car diners,  roadside rest area picnic tables, and the parking lot attendee booths, so, this isn't as vehicle related in terms of post office paintings, but the ones I've selected here are the railroad and tractor paintings

There are four murals by Stevan Dohanos in the Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, post office in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are likely the only remaining New Deal–funded artworks in a United States territory.

see the following for more:

https://subjectivelyobjective.com/product/volume-102/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/aug/21/picture-essay-america-1930s-post-office-murals

https://postalmuseum.si.edu/node/2168

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_post_office_murals

If you'd like to find some, and want to look them up by state, this wikipedia link is terrific!  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_post_office_murals 

but this one is even better! https://livingnewdeal.org/map/

they weren't all somber and serious:


8 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting them! Anyone going to visit will probably arrive in some type of road vehicle just as it should be!

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  2. Thanks, Jesse. Wheels or not, this should be of interest to anyone who cares about American history.

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  3. Theres one in a local post office

    https://digitalcommons.unf.edu/historical_architecture_main/4210/

    It was taken down or covered because it showed black people picking cotton.

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  4. Next time your in Manistique, MI stop in the post office. There is one there.

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    1. Hello fellow Yooper! I was looking at all of the WPA art in the yoop on the https://livingnewdeal.org/map/ map. Very fast way to see what is in a particular area.

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  5. Thanks for this history lesson, Jesse! There is a mural at a post office near me, but I don't think I have noticed it before. I'll have to pay attention the next time I am at that one.

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  6. There's one of these at the post office down the street from my house. It was done in 1942 by a man named Avery Johnson, who did a couple of others for the WPA at that time. Sadly, it's now covered because it shows slaves pulling barrels of tobacco.

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    1. yup, the murals with slaves have been erased in order to pretend slavery wasn't a common everyday aspect of American culture

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