Tuesday in Mooseville – If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, What Is A Mural Worth? 5/28/19

Man and Machinery. One of Diego Rivera’s mammoth Detroit Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts; 1933

I first discovered mural art when I moved to Michigan and visited the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). Since that first visit, I’ve made more visits to the DIA than I can count, and a I’d say that more than half of those visits have been to the court alone. There’s something direct and unvarnished in public murals that appeals to me. So when JanF shared a tweet of the Harriet Tubman mural, I was transfixed. It’s clear I’m not the only one.

When I went to the Post Office on Friday to buy some stamps, the postal clerk, who knows my interest in history (small town living FTW!), suggested I would like the newly-released Post Office mural stamps. She was right, and in the process, gave me a topic for today’s post. When life gives you murals, write about them.

…the Roosevelt administration established the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). Funded by the Civil Works Administration and overseen by the Department of the Treasury, the New Deal program led to the hiring of more than 3,700 artists.

Under PWAP leader Edward Bruce, the artists were encouraged to depict an American scene, a style of painting that eschewed modern trends and focused on the idealized portrayal of daily life in America. In less than a year, the artists created thousands of murals, stand-alone paintings, and sculptures.

Following the expiration of the PWAP in 1934, the U.S. Treasury formed the Section of Painting and Sculpture. Eventually renamed the Section of Fine Arts, the Bruce-helmed initiative sought to brighten newly built Post Office locations and federal buildings. From 1934 through 1943, the Section commissioned more than 1,000 murals. From 1935 through 1939, the Treasury Relief Art Project also funded a small number of murals at existing Post Offices. The buildings were some of the country’s most widely trafficked public spaces, which meant many people could enjoy the murals. (USPS To Dedicate Post Office Murals Stamps)

Sugarloaf Mountain by Judson Smith (1940), Rockville MD

Antelope by Olive Rush (1939), Florence CO

Rush had first visited Santa Fe in 1914 on a trip through the Southwest with her father and brother. She was granted an exhibit of her paintings at the Museum of New Mexico’s Palace of the Governors, the first woman to gain that honor. She later said that her New Mexico experience opened up her world and led her to give priority to her own art rather than commercial work. In 1920, she relocated to Santa Fe where she spent the rest of her long life. She bought an early nineteenth-century adobe house on Canyon Road which she decorated with Native American and Hispanic artifacts as well as her own fresco painting. The little house became a gathering place for artists, especially the few female artists that ventured into the still-remote small town. Rush also offered her home as the meeting house for the Society of Friends and she left it to the local Quaker congregation upon her death.

Rush had been interested in Native American art and culture since her first visit to the Southwest, and Native figures, artifacts, and genre became the subject of much of her work. In 1929 she was hired to paint frescoes of Indian figures in the newly expanded La Fonda hotel on the Santa Fe Plaza. Their popularity led to an invitation to oversee a mural project at the Santa Fe Indian School, painted by students. This experience, in turn, led to Rush’s long-time involvement in promoting Native arts and artists. During the WPA years, Rush painted murals in the foyer of the Santa Fe Public Library, the biology building at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and the Pawhuska, Oklahoma Post Office, and she made a tempera painting for the Florence, Colorado Post Office. In 1939, the Indian curio dealer, Maurice Maisel, commissioned Rush to paint a mural frieze on the façade of his shop in downtown Albuquerque. She hired several Native students to assist her, some of whom became famous on their own, including Pablita Velarde, Alfonso Roybal, Harrison Begay, Joe Herrera, and Pop Chalee. (Olive Rush (1873-1966) Biography)

Antelope by Olive Rush (1939), Florence CO

Rush had first visited Santa Fe in 1914 on a trip through the Southwest with her father and brother. She was granted an exhibit of her paintings at the Museum of New Mexico’s Palace of the Governors, the first woman to gain that honor. She later said that her New Mexico experience opened up her world and led her to give priority to her own art rather than commercial work. In 1920, she relocated to Santa Fe where she spent the rest of her long life. She bought an early nineteenth-century adobe house on Canyon Road which she decorated with Native American and Hispanic artifacts as well as her own fresco painting. The little house became a gathering place for artists, especially the few female artists that ventured into the still-remote small town. Rush also offered her home as the meeting house for the Society of Friends and she left it to the local Quaker congregation upon her death.

Rush had been interested in Native American art and culture since her first visit to the Southwest, and Native figures, artifacts, and genre became the subject of much of her work. In 1929 she was hired to paint frescoes of Indian figures in the newly expanded La Fonda hotel on the Santa Fe Plaza. Their popularity led to an invitation to oversee a mural project at the Santa Fe Indian School, painted by students. This experience, in turn, led to Rush’s long-time involvement in promoting Native arts and artists. During the WPA years, Rush painted murals in the foyer of the Santa Fe Public Library, the biology building at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, and the Pawhuska, Oklahoma Post Office, and she made a tempera painting for the Florence, Colorado Post Office. In 1939, the Indian curio dealer, Maurice Maisel, commissioned Rush to paint a mural frieze on the façade of his shop in downtown Albuquerque. She hired several Native students to assist her, some of whom became famous on their own, including Pablita Velarde, Alfonso Roybal, Harrison Begay, Joe Herrera, and Pop Chalee. (Olive Rush (1873-1966) Biography)

Kiowas Moving Camp by Stephen Mopope (1938), Anadarko OK

One of the most illustrious of the Kiowa artists of the twentieth century, Steven Mopope (Qued Koi, Painted Robe) was a prolific painter. His work is represented in galleries and collections throughout the United States. A descendant of Spaniards and Kiowas, he was born on August 27, 1898, on the Kiowa Reservation in Indian Territory. His maternal grandfather was the great Kiowa warrior Appiatan, and one of his great uncles was Silverhorn (Haungooah)…He was one of six Indian artists commissioned to paint murals in a new federal building for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., along with fellow Kiowa artist James Auchiah. Mopope’s mural subject is a ceremonial dance painted in oils, six by sixty feet in dimension. His themes invariably depict cultural aspects of Kiowa life. (MOPOPE, STEVEN (1898–1974).)

Air Mail by Daniel Rhodes (1941), Piggott AR

UCA.edu: “Daniel Rhodes was commissioned for $700 to create a mural for Piggott, Arkansas, only after the original artist, Loyle Houser, did not perform in a timely manner. Rhodes had composed a mural centered around communication entitled Communication by Mail for the Marion, Iowa, post office in 1939. He resolved to employ a similar theme for the Piggott mural, lauding the significance of airmail for small, isolated communities in rural America.

“The mural depicts a scene of extolling the ideas of communication. At the left, a local citizen hands a letter to the postmaster, who subsequently assists the pilots loading the mailbags onto the idling airplane in the center. The scene eulogizes modern technology and its ability to connect rural America to the rest of the world.” (Post Office Mural – Piggott AR)


(For a thumbnail photo of the mural and further details of the contract award process, see this article: Post Office, Piggott)

Mountains and Yucca by Kenneth M. Adams (1937), Deming NM

In 1924, Adams followed Dasburg’s advice, settling in Taos with an introduction to painter Walter Ufer. He became the youngest and last member of the Taos Society of Artists, but he was more than a duplicate of the original members’ emphasis on the romantic Indian. Adams was contemporary realist, influenced by Dasburg and working in the tradition of Rivera and Orozco.

Technically conservative, Adams was nevertheless concerned with the daily lives of his agrarian neighbors. In 1929, Adams began teaching at the U of New Mexico in Taos. The dominant subjects in his work became the Spanish Americans and landscapes. On one of his visits to Taos in the late twenties B.J.O. Nordfeldt admired certain of Adams’ drawings and suggested they would make fine lithographic prints. He gave Adams several zinc plates and some crayons and Adams began creating many Modernist lithographs using New Mexico as his muse. ( Kenneth Miller Adams American 1897-1966 Biography)

nterior of U.S. Post Office, located at 201 W. Spruce Street in Deming, New Mexico. Camera is facing west. (3 February 2012)

These USPS murals on the stamps are off the beaten track for many of us, but the good news is that the stamp series features only five of more than 1300 murals commissioned. Wikipedia provides a list of USPS murals by state for those who wish to do some exploring. (List of United States post office murals)

  6 comments for “Tuesday in Mooseville – If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, What Is A Mural Worth? 5/28/19

  1. basket
    May 28, 2019 at 8:44 am

    Thank you for sharing this!! I don’t buy or use stamps very often, but this gives me some ideas for my next stamp book.

    • DoReMI
      May 28, 2019 at 11:05 am

      Or you could just stop at the post office in Tahlequah when you get there; it has a mural.

    • DoReMI
      May 28, 2019 at 11:17 am

      Good thing I checked…like so many places, the mural is in a former post office building, which is now the Chamber of Commerce home:
      Chamber of Commerce
      Phone: (918) 456-3742
      123 E Delaware St
      Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74464
      Hours: M-F 9AM – 5PM

      Building was the old post office

  2. bfitzinAR
    May 28, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    We didn’t have time to visit the old Post Office/current Chamber of Commerce – once we finished visiting the Cherokee Heritage Center it was almost 2 pm & by the time we finished lunch we needed to head for home. Should we/I ever go there again… This is great. I love the WPA works anyway – I’ll be getting those stamps when they come out.

  3. June 2, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    What a fine post, DoReMI! You have to hand it to the New Deal—it certainly provided work for a lot of people, who left us with an enduring legacy.

    Artists are awe-inspiring!

    • DoReMI
      June 2, 2019 at 7:55 pm

      I was so fascinated by the nuts and bolts of the artistic side of the New Deal that I’ve ordered three books on the topic. Expect more on this topic once I’ve received, read, and digested the books.

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