Is a tour of United States Post Office Murals a reason to plan a road-trip? Is the antidote to the conundrum of how to plan a road trip solved by pinpointing post office art on a map? Can a trip to your local post office serve as a mini museum visit? In all cases the answer is: absolutely! But if my questions leave you wondering what EXACTLY is a post office mural, let’s enjoy a brief History Lesson together!
United States Post Office Murals: A Brief History
According to the Smithsonian web site, in an article written by Patricia Raynor, “Throughout the United States—on post office walls large and small—are scenes reflecting America’s history and way of life. Post offices built in the 1930s during Roosevelt’s New Deal were decorated with enduring images of the “American scene.
In the 1930s, as America continued to struggle with the effects of the depression, the federal government searched for solutions to provide work for all Americans, including artists. During this time government-created agencies supported the arts in unprecedented ways. As Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s relief administrator said in response to criticism of federal support for the arts, “[artists] have got to eat just like other people.”
Often mistaken for WPA art, post office murals were actually executed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts. Commonly known as “the Section,” it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. Headed by Edward Bruce, a former lawyer, businessman, and artist, the Section’s main function was to select art of high quality to decorate public buildings—if the funding was available. By providing decoration in public buildings, the art was made accessible to all people. Post offices were located in virtually every community and available for viewing by all postal patrons—which made post office murals a truly democratic art form. Artists working for the Section were not chosen on the basis of need, but through anonymous competitions where the national jurors were often other artists. Although considered open competitions, restrictions were often attached to entries.”
How to Plan a Road Trip Incorporating Post Office Art
I honestly don’t know how I became aware of the existence of post office art, but making stops throughout Texas on a recent road trip with my daughter certainly included stops at small town post offices to admire the art. I simply started with Google. Which led me to a web site listing all the post office art throughout the State of Texas, and the associated artists. Anticipating a few road-trips over the summer months, I also recently Googled information about murals in the states of Alabama, Pennsylvania, and also Massachusetts.
A few months back, in the category of “happy and unanticipated emails”, I received a very kind note from a post office mural fan who came across my article about my Texas Road Trip, mentioned above. Turns out, David Gates is a lot more than simply a fan.
Post Office Murals: Guide Books
I was honored to interview David in a recent Curious Cowgirl Pod Cast Episode, and learned a great deal about murals across the United States. David discovered murals by way of hiking across America, and stopping in small town post offices to receive packages of supplies along his routes.
Today, he has written two books, of the coffee table variety, documenting Post Office Murals in Tennessee and Wisconsin. And, for those of you wanting more information on how to plan a road trip incorporating murals into your daily driving plan, David has also written three Guide Books for the same two states, as well as Illinois. Handy, because not all murals are easily visible to the public, and some buildings might also be government buildings, with limited hours.
David is not the only author in this genre. Philip Parisi published a coffee table variety book (I don’t say that in a derogatory way….just to indicate that these books are filled with gorgeous full-color photos) for the Great State of Texas.
The New Deal: Art and Architecture
Post Office Murals and Art were only a small portion of New Deal efforts to employ artists and beautify our country. The Living New Deal Website links to over 16,000 locations in the United States where visitors, or locals, can admire New Deal art and architecture. Of course I looked up Texas, which has over 900 sites. Massachusetts comes in second with over 800 sites. From bridges to schools. Fair Grounds to, of course, post offices.
Now there’s a great answer to the question, How to Plan a Road Trip!
As I road-trip across the country, be sure and follow me on Instagram. @thecuriouscowgirl. I’ll be posting the New Deal Art I come across. And, if there’s something special in your neck-of-the-woods you think I should stop and see, let me know in the comments below.
Tags: Post Office Murals | Road Trip | Trip Planning | WPA Murals