by Bob Bowman
POST OFFICE ART
the Great Depression, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought ideas for public
relief projects to inspire Americans to rebuild their lives, an artist friend
asked the President to employ artists to beautify the walls of public buildings
with positive images of American life and history.|
George Biddle's suggestion
came from the 1920s Mexican murals renaissance as an example of how government-sponsored
art could inspire public pride.
Roosevelt accepted Biddle's idea and
dozens of artists went to work all over America painting murals
on post offices and other public buildings. Today, if you take the time to
drive around East Texas, youčll find
that many of the murals
are still in place, offering unique and colorful snapshots of history, community
life and the economy of the 1930s.
One of my favorite post office murals
is at Cooper in Delta
County, where artist Lloyd Goff painted a 44-foot by nine-foot mural titled, "Before
the Fencing of Delta County," in 1939. It is especially noted for the richness
of its colors.
| At Kilgore,
Xavier Gonzalez left behind four murals in the local post office. One captures
the vibrancy of the East Texas oil boom, another depicts Texas' pioneers, a third
speaks to the music of the plains, and a fourth honors the town's youth. All of
the murals have been restored by Kilgore historians.|
In neighboring Longview,
Thomas M. Stell produced a panoramic view of "Rural East Texas" in the
Longview post office in 1942 -- one of the last murals painted in East
Texas. A similar mural, entitled "Agriculture
and Industry," was painted by Bernard Zakheim at the Rusk
post office in 1939. East Texas' vanished cotton industry was depicted by Victor
Arnautoff with a 1939 mural called "Cotton Pickers" at Linden's
post office. The timber industry, long an important East Texas industry, was illustrated
in post office murals created by artists Alexander Levin, Edward Chavez, and Jerry
Bywaters at Jasper, Center
and Trinity between 1939 and 19421.
Liberty's proximity to the Trinity River became the subject of a Liberty mural
by Howard Fisher in 1929 and titled "The Story of the Big Fish." Sadly,
some of the Depression-era murals have been lost, destroyed or damaged during
the passage of time.|
Two murals at Livingston, "Buffalo Hunting"
and "Landscape," both painted in 1941 by Theodore Van Soelen, were damaged
when stripped from a former post office building. They are now in storage, unavailable
also lost its 1937 mural by Paul Ninas. Titled "Local Industries," the
fresco illustrated segments of the oil and agricultural industries, but was eradicated
when painted over in the 1950s. A 1938 mural painted by Nicholas Lyon at Conroe,
depicting a family of East Texas pioneers, was also lost. And a Mineola
mural, also painted in 1938 by Bernard Zakheim, has vanished*,
too. It depicted "New and Old Methods of Transportation."
If you would like to know more about this remarkable and historic art project,
we recommend an excellent book by Philip
Parisi, "The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People," published
by the Texas A&M University Press. Parisi's book includes photos of all of the
Depression murals painted throughout Texas.