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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical


POST OFFICE ART

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
During 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.
Cowboys, longhorn, longhorn skull and saddle, Cooper TX PO mural details
Details of Cooper's post office mural
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, June 2007
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.
Rusk Texas Post Office Mural Agriculture and Industry by Bernard Zacheim
Post Office Mural "Agriculture and Industry" in Rusk
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey , February 2006
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 for viewing.

Henderson 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.
*See Mineola's "Lost" Post Office Mural
New Orleans Reader's Request Brings Discovery
All Things Historical - August 2 , 2004 Column
Published with permission
Distributed as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of 30 books on East Texas.

Related Topics:
Texas Post Office Murals
Texas History
Texas Towns
Texas
Book - Texas Post Office Murals
 
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