America, the Great Depression began in September of 1929 and although parts of
the economy had improved by 1940, the country really didn’t recover until the
start of World War II. By 1932
unemployment had reached 23.6% and it peaked at 25% in early 1933. None of the safety nets that exist today were
in place at that time…so President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress
initiated many sweeping actions under the President’s “New Deal” Program and the Works Progress Administration.
the myriad of programs that was initiated involved the Procurement Division of
the United States Department of the Treasury.
That Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture was funded as part
of the planned construction of new post offices. Of the funding set aside for construction, 1%
was designated for artwork that met high artistic standards for public
buildings. This artwork was intended to
boost the morale of the people by depicting positive subjects that the populace
knew and loved. Of course, the
construction of new post offices, as well as the artistic creations, were intended
to provide work for unemployed Americans…
ever noticed a mural or painting in a local post office? Many are high up on the walls and patrons
just don’t see them. Murals/paintings
were commissioned through competitions open to all artists in the USA. Almost 850 artists were chosen to paint 1,371
murals. 162 of the artists were women
and 3 were African Americans. WPA murals
were created in all 48 states as well as in Alaska and Hawaii.
of 22 of these works of art are still extant in Tennessee alone… What follows
is a selection of murals from around the USA.
just one of 4 large murals and 9 lunettes on display at the US Post Office in
Port Chester New York. Domenico
Mortellito created these works in 1936.
Between them they depict dock workers, mill owners, tool and die workers
and the historic Life Savers Building in Port Chester. To see 2 more of the murals as well as 2 of
the lunettes, just go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Post_Office_(Port_Chester,_New_York).
Mortellito was born in 1906 in Newark NJ.
He died in 1994. Domenico
operated his own studio in New York City from 1927 until 1942. During that period he produced murals for the
World’s Fair pavilions, churches, luxury liner ships and trains. From 1942 to 1945 he worked for the military
at the Pentagon in Washington DC, where he designed exhibits, supervised
graphic presentations and designed booklets and brochures. From 1945 until 1979, he worked as a director
of design for the DuPont Company.
lunette is a half-moon shaped or semi-circular arch space.
You'll need to expand the this mural as well as the next 3 paintings to appreciate their full impact.
mural was completed for the ‘new’ post office in Dixon Tennessee. This fresco entitled “People of the Soil” was
created in 1939 by artist Edwin Boyd Johnson.
Unfortunately, the post office moved to a new building more than 20
years ago. So at this point the old post
office building with the fresco is now privately owned and most folks who’ve
seen this piece of art end up taking a photo through the window.
Boyd Johnson (1904 – 1968) was an American painter, designer, muralist and
photographer. He studied fresco painting
in Vienna Austria, Paris France and Alexandria Egypt. Johnson is best known for his murals which
were funded by the WPA Federal Art Project.
This second work
by Edwin Johnson is entitled “Airmail” and it was on display in the Melrose
Illinois Post office from 1937 until 1971.
When the post office was closed, it was renovated to become the public
library and the fresco was presumed to be lost and destroyed. In 2007 a librarian discovered the damaged
fresco behind a drop ceiling. After 6
months and a $50,000 restoration project, the fresco is now on display in the
library. Johnson also painted murals for
the Tuscola Illinois Post Office and the City Hall mural in Sioux Falls South
Illinois alone, under this New Deal Program, the United States Post Office
commissioned approximately 100 pieces of art of which over 60 are still on
display in that state’s post offices…
This eye-pleasing oil on canvas painting is simply titled “Early US Post
Village”. It was completed by Karl
Oberteuffer in 1938 and it’s on display in the US Post Office in McKenzie
Tennessee. Karl was born in France in
1908 to parents’ American painter George Oberteuffer and French artist
Henriette Amiard. At the age of 10, the
family moved to the United States, settling in Chicago. After graduating from the Art Institute of
Chicago, Karl became an art instructor at schools in Memphis Tennessee and
later, in Boston Massachusetts. He died
Oliver Sharp (1911 – 1966) painted this oil on canvas mural entitled “Summer”
in 1941. He also called this mural
“Imaginary Farm”. He was known for his
floral still life paintings as well as of regional scenes. His works frequently come up for auction at
various art galleries.
was a student at the Art Students’ League in New York, Sharp met fellow artist
Paul Crosthwaite and the two became lifelong companions. They settled in New Hope Pennsylvania, a town
which was home to many artists. Sharp
was one of the founders of the Bucks County Playhouse…and as evidenced by the
mural shown above, he took part in the Federal Works Progress Administration
Program. One of John Sharp’s paintings
was used as a cover for the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine I remember
mural entitled “Grist for the Mill” was completed in 1939 by Charles Malcolm
Campbell. (1905 – 1985) It hangs in the post office in Kenedy Texas. Charles was a quiet man who tended to make
strong social statements in his paintings…some satirical and others full of
fantasy and humor. He is considered as
one of the more distinctive and imaginative contemporary American painters of
was a perfectionist, who is reputed to have destroyed over two-thirds of his
work during his career. He painted every
day until his eyes gave out…with his stated aim to “Express my vision of the
world in the purest possible terms.”
Like many artists during the Depression, Charles produced several murals
under the WPA program. When he got
enough money together, he bought a beat-up automobile and bummed around the
country for a year, looking at the people and the land during a very rough
period of our history.
moved back to Cleveland and produced easel paintings for the Treasury Art
Project until 1942. His early work was
exhibited in traveling shows in most of the major museums across the country. The Cleveland Museum and the Whitney Museum
own examples of his work from that period.
He later moved to Los Angeles, followed by the French Quarter in New
Orleans and finally to Phoenix Arizona.
mural was completed in 1939 by Ludwig Mactarian. It was installed in the Dardanelle
Agriculture and Post Office in Dardanelle Arkansas. Its title is “Cotton Growing, Manufacture,
and Export”. By today’s standards, it
could be considered controversial but it was a product of the times.
was born in 1908 and died in 1955. US
Army induction records list his birthplace as Syria or the Ottoman Empire. Ethnically he was an Armenian. He was only 13 when he immigrated to the
USA. He studied painting at the National
Academy of Design and learned printmaking and lithography at the Art Students
League. Early in his career, he painted,
made prints and provided illustrations for popular magazines and books.
paid $660 by the WPA for “Cotton Growing, Manufacture, and Export”. That’s the equivalent to about $12,500 today.
That was a big deal when you consider
that the minimum hourly wage in 1939 was 30 cents an hour and the average annual income was $1,368! However, when he was working
on this project, he was unable to afford travel to Dardanelle so he researched
ideas for the mural by studying the region at the library and via telephone
conversations with Dardanelle’s postmaster.
striking painting was also painted by Ludwig Mactarian. When WWII began, he joined the army. While at Fort Dix New Jersey, his art work caught
the attention of the War Art Advisory Committee and he was assigned to the 337th
Engineer General Services Regiment, part of the US Fifth Army in Italy. His series of Contemporary Realist paintings
made in Italy in 1944/1945 drew considerable attention. This painting, titled “Factory at Piombino”
was completed in 1944.
mural entitled “Hauling in the Net” was created between 1939 and 1940 by
Michigan artist Zoltan Sepeshy in his studio at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. This tempera mural measures 5 feet by almost
14 feet and it was installed above the entrance to the postmaster’s office at
the Lincoln Park Michigan post office.
the postmaster didn’t like the painting, in 1967 this big mural was removed
from the post office. A businessman
across the street from the post office liked the painting and saved it from
potential destruction by relocating it to an old net shed owned by the Beaver
Island Historical Society. That building
was part of the Marine Museum on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. The businessman’s thought was that a mural
honoring fishermen, in any case an odd theme in industrial Detroit, would be
appreciated on the island.
mural was pretty much forgotten by everyone in the outside world, even the
Smithsonian Institution, which tracks public art in government buildings. They had officially declared this painting as
art director from Escanaba Michigan was on the island helping the executive
director with display work, when she stumbled into the mural! She knew that it was important and that it
needed to be preserved. With no humidity
control at the Museum, combined with an earlier botched effort to restore it,
it was in bad shape. So the painting was
removed and sent to a restoration studio.
When the restoration was completed, this big mural was returned to the
Beaver Island Historical Society where it is now displayed in a new climate
controlled facility. Interestingly, the mural in the museum differs considerably from the one pictured above...
For more information about the Beaver Island Museum, just go to Beaver Island Historical Society – Making Beaver Island
History Come Alive
yet another work by Zoltan Sepeshy. It
was completed by the artist in 1942.
This tempera on wallboard painting is entitled “Barnyard Critters” and
it’s on display in the US Post Office in Nashville Illinois.
Sepeshy (1898 – 1974) was born in Hungary to an aristocratic family that
possessed land, money and status. Zoltan
studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and also the Academy of
Fine Art in Vienna Austria, earning degrees in art and art education. His father urged him to immigrate to the
United States where he settled in Michigan, eventually working and teaching at
the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Zoltan’s
works are exhibited in many private and public art collections, including at
the St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis Missouri.
ends Part I of “Art – Hidden in Plain Sight”.
Part II will follow in a couple of weeks with murals/paintings from
Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Tennessee and Texas.
click on any of these murals to enlarge them…
stopping by for a visit!
Stay Safe and Take Care, Big Daddy Dave