From Rural Florida to Upstate New York
Internal emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act reveal that an "artwork workgroup” of high-level United States Postal Service (USPS) officials, including attorneys and USPS's Federal Preservation Officer, has directed facilities and maintenance personnel to cover up 80-year-old murals housed at 16 post offices spanning 12 states. USPS is considering the murals' outright removal, and it is unclear whether this initiative will expand to include historic artwork at additional locations.
Recent photographs from four of these locations show tarp-like plastic sheets, resembling heavy-duty garbage bags, covering the entirety of their respective murals to render them unviewable. The coordinated effort is without modern precedent, and the Postal Service has repeatedly declined to explain its actions in response to inquiries from local news reporters and even members of Congress.
Before and after (covered): Photographs of the 1940 mural, "CottonFrom Field to Mill," at the Jackson, Georgia post office, taken Jan. 2008 and Aug. 2020. Photos courtesy Jimmy Emerson.
Impacted post offices serve locations ranging from small cities in Illinois and Florida to the suburbs of Boston and Baltimore, as well as multiple locations in the Deep South. Several of the post offices are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the post offices, in New York's Hudson Valley, was uniquely designed to the specifications of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal programs commissioned each of the murals.
Dismissing Information Requests
Postmasters and employees at post offices have been instructed not to respond to requests for comment regarding the murals. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many know little, if anything, about the situation. Requests to USPS for information are funneled through communications "field managers" for inquiries from "the Postmasters and media," and Government Relations (GR) officials "for any congressional inquiries they may get." The response is exactly the same.
Internally this blanket response is known as the holding statement, which reads as follows:
In past decades, artwork has been placed in Post Office lobbies for permanent public display. Traditionally, Post Office lobbies were community gathering spots, frequently visited by community members from all walks of life, making those locations particularly accessible display sites.On Friday, August 28, Postlandia emailed the following questions regarding the murals and "artwork workgroup" to two senior Public Relations Representatives, for this article:
The Postal Service respects and embraces the uniqueness and diversity of every individual. And we encourage contributions of people from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, including those of our employees and members of the communities we serve.
While it is the policy of the Postal Service to preserve and protect the historic artwork in its collection for future generations, we are mindful that certain murals generate strong feelings for some of our employees and customers.
With that in mind, discussions are being held on how to properly handle and safeguard the future of those pieces. We are evaluating each of the pieces and we will work to ensure that appropriate action is taken on select murals, if deemed necessary.
• When and why was this group formed? Who is on it and why?
• How were these murals selected for covering and analysis [for potential removal]?
• How are the murals being analyzed? When will a determination for the murals' “final disposition” be complete?
• What are the options being considered for the murals’ “final disposition”e.g. returning to the way things were; adding informational plaques, etc.; relocation to storage; relocation to a public-facing institution, like a museum; or destruction?
Instead of answers to any of these questions, the author was treated to a startling string of private Reply All emails to which he was accidentally cc'ed, in which the two senior Public Relations officials questioned his character and the motivation for this journalism. They proceeded with the following internal discussion:
• PR (1): "I assume this is someone we dealt with before? Who is he with?"
• PR (2): "He is the guy who recently filed two foias for the murals. He's angry that we're covering up some of the murals in POs. ...
• PR (1): "Based on that I think we don't provide further information."
At this point one of the officials attempted to recall two of the emails; they later apologized for the "inadvertent emails" while fully denying the request for information.
Regulations and Precedent
The Postal Service is responsible for the preservation and maintenance of most of the 1,400+ murals, bas reliefs, and sculptures commissioned for federal buildings (including post offices) by the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts and similar New Deal agencies between 1934 and 1944. Over the years many of these works have been mistakenly attributed to the Works Progress Administration (WPA); however, the WPA's Federal Art Project did not participate in the creation of artworkalso known as "decorations," or "embellishments"for federal buildings.
The covering of these murals deviates sharply from modern USPS precedents. In 2019, when one couple petitioned for the modification or removal of the mural "Three Ages of Phoebe Goodell Judson," which has been on display at the Lynden, Washington post office since 1942, a USPS official "cited the General Services Administration Fine Arts Policies and Procedures in his response saying “adverse public opinion ... does not justify the relocation, covering from public view, or removal of artwork."
As recently as July 2020, in response to complaints about the mural "John Eliot Speaks to the Natick Indians," housed at the post office in downtown Natick, Massachusetts since 1937, a USPS Communications official confirmed:
Our policy has always been not to cover or remove these artworks based on one person or group's artistic interpretation, but to preserve the works in our custody for future generations. In some cases, we have added interpretive text alongside a mural to give it historical context.The Postal Service's management of New Deal artwork is governed by Handbook RE-1: U.S. Postal Service Facilities Guide to Real Property Acquisitions and Related Services, § 333.2, which begins: "It is the policy of the Postal Service to preserve, protect, and maintain the New Deal Art Collection, defined as the Postal Service-owned murals and sculptures commissioned specifically for Postal Service facilities from 1934 to 1944..."
It is unclear how covering and potentially removing the murals supports this mission.
Generally, the Postal Service only relocates such New Deal artwork when the agency "disposes" of a historic building bearing such artwork, and the artwork needs a new home (see: Greenwich and Fairfield, Connecticut; and Virginia Beach, Virginia). This is not the case with any of the 16 post offices whose murals are impacted by the current initiative. While USPS has declined to specify why these particular murals have been targeted, in multiple instances the works have been subjected to one or more public complaints regarding their potentially discomforting content. Some depict slavery in some capacity.
Internal USPS emails reveal that three post offices with "American Indian themed mural subject," which have also been "subject of recent complaints," are excluded from the present program. Instead, informational statements with text provided by the Federal Preservation Officer are being posted at the post offices: Natick, Massachusetts; Wayne, PA; and Greensboro, GA (more about this one later). Some question why USPS did not immediately take this approach with the now-covered murals, presuming it ultimately decides not to relocate the works.
While USPS Handbook RE-1 does not discuss the remedies available under such circumstances, the parallel policy of the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages thousands of Federal properties and an extensive New Deal art collection of its own, is quite clear: "GSA's policy is to retain the existing location of an installed artworkbe it the original location or a permanent relocationand to honor the artist's original intent. Adverse public or tenant opinion does not justify the relocation, covering from public view, or removal of artwork" (Fine Arts Policies and Procedures § 3.4.1: Relocation Eligibility). It is unclear why USPS's policy differs from the GSA's.
USPS guidelines state that all changes to a mural's disposition must meet with the approval of the Federal Preservation Officer (FPO)currently Daniel Delahaye, who has held the position since December 2013. The inclusion of Mr. Delahaye and Postal Service lawyers on the artwork committee suggests that at least some of these murals are being considered for removal and/or relocation to a non-USPS location. Per Handbook RE-1, § 333.2 ¶ 2:
"No New Deal Art Collection artwork may be removed, sold, lent, or otherwise disposed of without the Federal Preservation Officer’s (FPO) written approval. It is the intention of the Postal Service that New Deal Art Collection artwork will remain the property of the Postal Service. When the Postal Service anticipates transferring ownership of a Postal Service building containing New Deal Art Collection artwork, the FPO will take steps the FPO deems appropriate to safeguard such artwork. The FPO may relocate such artwork to another Postal Service facility, may leave such artwork in place under a loan arrangement with the new building owner, may relocate such artwork to a non-Postal location under a loan agreement with a governmental or private museum, library, arts center, historical society, or similar non-profit organization, or may take such other steps as the FPO deems appropriate. The FPO, in consultation with the Law Department, will determine the terms of each loan agreement for New Deal Art Collection artwork. ..."Precedent raises questions as to whether these regulations were intended to permit USPS's current course of action; however, it is possible FPOs have just opted not to execute their full authority in the past. Under a broad interpretation of this text, USPS may make any changes to the disposition of any or all items in its New Deal Art Collection, at any time, so long as the move is approved by the Federal Preservation Officer.
The Postal Service has not responded to an email seeking clarification of this matter.
Where Are the Murals?
An internal USPS email (obtained under FOIA), dated August 4, identifies the 16 post offices whose murals were to be covered, stating that the "process should be complete within three weeks." [Updated, Sept. 4:] Visitors to six of these post offices have confirmed, by way of social media post or email to Postlandia, that the affected murals have been covered: five in their entirety, and one in partby a USPS banner, no less. As of August 28 the 12-panel mural in Rhinebeck, New York, had not been covered.
The post offices (and respective murals) are:
- Luverne, Alabama: "Cotton Field," by Arthur Getz (1942). Getz illustrated 213 covers for The New Yorker between 1938 and 1988, and his work appears at two other post offices: Lancaster, New York, and Bronson, Michigan. Alabama Moments:
“Getz received the commission for Luverne on the basis of designs he had submitted for a competition for the War Department building. As a northern artist he was warned by the Section when he proposed the theme of cotton: “It will be necessary for you to acquaint yourself thoroughly with the appearance of a cotton plant as the individuals using this post office will be especially observant on this point.” Getz consulted southern painters as well as researching the growing of cotton while he worked on the mural. The story of the completion of Getz’s mural was all too familiar late in the Section program. He had received the commission for the Luverne mural in May of 1941. In February of 1942, while completing the project, he needed a letter for his draft board from the Section to allow him to finish the work. Getz seems to have managed to complete the mural and send it to Luverne for installation only a week or ten days before he was to be inducted into military service.”Postlandia has confirmed by way of social media post that the mural has been covered with a gray plastic "tarp." Prior to its covering Postlandia had been alerted to several posts on Facebook objecting to the content of the mural.
- Madison, Florida:"Long Staple Cotton," by George Snow Hill (1937). Hill also painted the mural for the post office in Perry, Florida. Greene Publishing reported the covering of the mural on August 18. "The painting depicts workers preparing cotton to be [baled] and shipped out. The painting pays tribute to the long staple cotton industry that was the economic engine that drove much of North Florida, including Madison County, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to an article in the Florida Historical Quarterly, Madison was “one of the centers for ginning and shipping of Sea Island cotton in the late 19th century."
Hill's works have long been controversial in St. Petersburg, Florida, and have at times brought charges of racism. St. Pete Catalyst details the numerous fascinating debates over his artwork.
- Camilla, Georgia: "Theme of the South," by Laura G. Douglas (1942). She is quoted as saying, "the South has been sung in song, literature, prose, and poetry, but the portrayal of the South in painting has not been successfully done as yet. I seek to put the poetry and history of the South in paint, but with vigor and creativeness and not sentimentalism."
- Greensboro, Georgia: "The Burning of Greensborough" and "Cotton Picking in Georgia," by Carson Davenport (1939). The U.S. Postal Service has taken dramatically different approaches to these paired murals, both of which feature intense subject matter.
The National Postal Museum details why this post office received two murals. It begins:
As was typical of the Section, the artist was encouraged to visit Greensboro to best determine a subject that “embodies some idea appropriate to the building or to, the particular locale of Greensboro.” Finding the right subject matter to satisfy the community of Greensboro was not easy, and eventually led to intervention by town leaders and Georgia congressman, Paul Brown. The congressman, as well as local banker and self-appointed historian T.B. Rice, were particularly dismayed the subject of Davenport’s mural was Cotton Picking in Georgia. They were adamant the subject should have been The Burning of Greensborough, illustrating a 1787 attack on the village by the Muscogee (Creek) Indians.The Postal Service has covered, and is considering the removal of, "Cotton Picking in Georgia." By contrast, regarding "The Burning of Greensborough," the FPO wrote in the August 4th email:
"Three POs have American Indian themed murals subject of recent complaints that will not be covered. I sent three installation heads texts for posting near the mural at each of those locations."
- Jackson, Georgia: "CottonFrom Field to Mill," by Philip Evergood (1940). The phenomenon of newly covered murals was first brought to the attention of the author by a post office and New Deal enthusiast, Jimmy Emerson of Georgia, who has photographed New Deal post office murals in all 50 states and randomly encountered the covered mural during a trip through Jackson on August 12th. The mural had been covered two days earlier.
The covering was soon reported by Larry Stanford of the Jackson Progress-Argus in Jackson, Georgia. The mural was installed at the city's then-new post office (now Municipal Court building) in 1940, where it resided for 55 years until the Postal Service relocatedalong with the muralin 1995.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum describes Philip Evergood as an artist whose "experiences in the Great Depression led him to turn from biblical subjects to social criticism. He was also active in organizations devoted to the civil rights of artists. ... Evergood’s art, like his other activities, reflects his devotion to egalitarian ideals, and his early paintings, especially, are statements of sympathy for those who struggle against oppression."
Stanford writes, "When the mural was moved to the new post office, there was a minor controversy when it was found that in order to place it over the postmaster’s office door, a 36-inch section at the bottom in the center of the mural, needed to be removed in order to fit it around the door frame. Art experts were brought in and it was determined that removing that section would not affect the integrity of the mural."
More recent controversy stems from the content of the mural, which "depicts Black and white farm workers harvesting cotton and loading it to be taken the mill during the Great Depression." While USPS has declined to cite any objections it has received, Postlandia found two, including an anonymous comment to the project page for the mural on the Living New Deal website, which objects to the "glorif[ication of] slavery or anything that looks like it."
Documents received by Postlandia suggest that the negative opinions of this work are not uniform. The office of Congressman Jody Hice (GA-10, R), whose District covers Jackson, has "received a few comments from constituents regarding a mural depicting early 20th-century agricultural life and its recent cover by a black tarp." In response to the question of why the 80-year-old mural was covered up, a Government Relations official responded with the aforementioned holding statement.
In response to the Progress-Argus's coverage, former Butts County Commissioner (Jackson's county) Harry Marett responded:
I read your report concerning the mural that has graced the walls of the Jackson post office for generations. Interest and dismay were my two main reactions. There are several things in that article that just do not ring true. First, if there has been no decision to remove it, then why has it been covered? If a final decision is yet to be made, what is the harm in leaving it as it has historically been?An additional commenter to the Living New Deal project page, Brenda Adams, writes:
Do postal officials not realize that they are employees of taxpayers and that failing to provide all available information to those citizens is a slap in the face and an affront to all who are interested?
This mural is a representation of southern life when cotton was king. My husband picked cotton as a child. He is white, and picked alongside white and black people. It was part of their life and I wish this mural and all the others this artist painted could remain where they are.
- Chester, Illinois: "Loading the Packet," by Fay E. Davis (1940). Ms. Davis received three commissions to paint murals at post offices, including "Loading the Packet"; "Cutting Timber" in Ligonier, Indiana; and "The Illini and Potawatomies Struggle at Starved Rock," in Oglesby, Illinois.
The Chester mural "portrays the daily lives of citizens during the peak of riverboat travel—children playing, families talking and dockworkers loading boats. It was cherished by the community as reflective of their heritage, with the postmaster once saying if the building caught fire, the mural rather than the mail should be saved."
Interestingly enough, this is not the first time one of Ms. Davis's post office murals has met with controversy and was covered up:
In 1942, Davis's second Illinois mural, The Illini and Potawatomies Struggle at Starved Rock, was installed in the post office at Oglesby. She had won the commission to paint the mural the previous year and made several trips to Starved Rock State Park to prepare the painting, which features 14 Native Americans in battle. Some of the fighters are on horseback and others are on foot. Painted in muted earth tones, the painting faded badly and was restored in 1988. In 1993, the mural came back into the news when a janitor at the post office claimed the nudity of the figures rendered the scene pornographic and filed a union grievance; while his complaint was being reviewed, the painting was shielded from the public by blinds. After a petition drive by local citizens to remove the blinds, the mural was uncovered and back on public display. Post office employees reported that the controversy had elevated the number of people who came to see the painting.
- Anchorage, Kentucky branch post office: "Meeting the Train," by Loren R. Fisher (1942). There are few non-paywalled resources about this mural or artist available, though the Louisville Courier-Journal has written at least two items about them: (Feb. 6, 2000:) "A nostalgic 1942 mural of "Meeting the Train" at the Anchorage post office by Loren Fisher reflects the early 20th-century reality..." and (Sept. 13, 1942:) "Loren R. Fisher has gone to an Army induction center in Indiana after a deferment to permit completion of his mural for the Anchorage, Ky., postoffice."
- Jeanerette, Louisiana: "Sugar Cane Mill," by Hollis Holbrook (1941). Lafayette, Louisiana's KLFY reported on local objections to this mural in early July.
While the image might appear startling, Richard B. Megraw, in his 1990 dissertation "The Uneasiest State: Art, Culture, and Society in New Deal Louisiana, 1933-1943," describes the intent of the artist:
Blacks also received sympathetic treatment in the hands of Hollis Holbrook, a Florida artist awarded the post office commission for Jeanerette, Louisiana. ... Shortly after receiving his commission, the artist contacted the Jeanerette postmaster, who recommended a sketch of an antebellum scene with all the trimmings. Holbrook complied. In his preliminary sketch the obligatory "Big House," a mansion modelled on the postmaster's home, dominates the scene. A fine carriage passes beneath the vigil of a tingioned mammy, her bundle of washing balanced upon her head... But Holbrook grew uneasy with this sentimentalized glimpse into the southern past, so he made a second sketch. His concern for the plight of minorities in American society, evident in the mural he completed for the Natick, Massachusetts post office*, resurfaced in his second sketch, ultimately the design for Jeanerette. While the Natick mural suggested the eclipse of the Indians by the arrival of the white man, the Jeanerette decoration depicted the plight of southern blacks, whose treadmill existence Holbrook paralleled with mules, the other southern beasts of burden. Backs bend pathetically under the strain. In this, the most sensitive portrait of black life completed in Louisiana, broken cane stalks fall from the grinder in a powerful and unmistakable reflection of the workers' lives played out in the shadow of the big house.(* Natick's post office mural, also a subject of recent controversy, was noted above in the discussion pertaining to "American Indian themed mural subject[s].")
- Catonsville, Maryland branch post office: "Incidents in the History of Catonsville," by Avery Johnson (1942). One of several works created by the artist for post offices, this mural's unusually shaped canvas was created specifically for the site, encompassing five windows as it wraps around three of the walls of the post office lobby.
- Medford, Massachusetts branch post office: "Golden Triangle of Trade," by Henry Billings (1939). Billings was responsible for murals at four post offices, including at Lake Placid, New York; one of the "FDR post offices"Wappingers Falls, New York; and Columbia, Tennessee.
The work has faced perennial calls for removal. According to the Medford Historical Society newsletter, fall 2011: “It was dedicated in 1939 and by the 1960s was covered up by wood panels. In 1993, it was restored and cleaned, and in 1999, an unsuccessful campaign was ignited to get the mural taken down due to its subject matter.”
An attempt to contextualize the work was approved by FPO Delahaye in 2016, based on "input from the Medford Historical Society," and placed in a frame nearby:
The three-panel mural celebrates two of Medford's earliest industriesshipbuilding and distilling rum. In the early 1800s, Massachusetts led the nation in rum production. Rum was made from molasses imported from the West Indies. The mural's title reders to the historical exchange of goods and enslaved Africans. Billings depicted a similar triangle. On the right is a West Indies sugar cane press. The center panel features a slave laborer hauling sugar cane in the West Indies. His open shackles attempt to show how enslaved people were freed in the North, but their presence reminds us of the history of the slave trade. Public art funded by the Federal Arts Project* was informed by many artistic movements in the 1930s and thus, the "Golden Triangle of Trade" should be seen as a modern New York's commission of local mural art at the height of its popularity.[* As noted previously, while often mistaken for WPA artwork, the WPA's Federal Art Project was not involved with the creation of artwork for Federal buildings..]
Multiple organizations have recently taken up the mantle seeking the work's removal, including Delta Diversity Medford, whose mission statement is "[t]o elevate awareness and bring racial justice and education into public art, history, and culture throughout Medford."
Emails obtained via FOIA reveal that the office of Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-05) has contacted USPS seeking the removal and relocation of "Golden Triangle of Trade," going so far as to seek the modification of USPS policy if needed to do so.
- Hazlehurst, Mississippi: "Life in the Mississippi Cotton Belt," by Auriel Bessemer (1939). Auriel Bessemer created murals for three post offices, including Winnsboro, South Carolina and Arlington, Virginiaa notable seven-panel work.
- Newton, Mississippi: "Economic Life in Newton in Early 40's," by Mary and Frank Boggs (1942). The Evening News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania reported on June 26, 1941:
MARY ROSS BOGGS of Knoxville, Tenn., ... and her husband, Franklin Boggs, have received a prize of $1000 for having painted the best mural for the new post office building at Newton M[i]ss. They competed against hundreds of other American artists. Mrs. Boggs also won another National competition for murals just before her marriage in the Christmas holidays.
- Tylertown, Mississippi: "Rural MississippiFrom Early Days to Present," by Lucile Blanch (1941). Unlike most post office murals from this era, which were painted on canvases affixed to the wall, this work is "actually a fresco painted directly onto the wall," and as such cannot be physically removed. Blanch was "one of the few artists who actually painted the mural in the same town for which the work was commissioned. She took great pleasure in talking to townsfolk about the progress of the painting, and they, in turn, enjoyed seeing places they knew develop in the work" (Deborah Purnell, 2004).
- Rhinebeck, New York: [scenes of local history], by Olin Dows (1940). As discussed on Postlandia's post, "A Stamp Issue to Make FDR Proud," posted in March 2017:
Dutchess County is home to the five 'FDR Post Offices': Beacon, Wappingers Falls, Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park, and Rhinebeck. Each of the five distinctive post offices was constructed during FDR's presidency, and FDR himself had a hand in the design of each. Each was built with locally quarried stone and each possesses sizable or otherwise distinctive works of New Deal artwork inside. (Beacon, Hyde Park, and Rhinebeck house full lobby-wraparound murals; Wappingers Falls has two triangular murals painted directly on walnut wood, and Poughkeepsie's houses five large murals on two stories.) In each case the New Deal artwork displays aspect of the community's heritage. The art was created and installed in public buildings so to be accessible to all people. Four of the five post offices (all but Beacon) were designed after historic buildings in each community. Poughkeepsie's post office— the "Grand Palace"—was designed to emulate the former courthouse in the city in which New York became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution, in 1788. Collectively the five FDR post offices in Dutchess County are among the finest and most concentrated collection of New Deal post offices in the country.Dows's mural wraps around the entirety of the remarkable, wood-paneled lobby. As of 2014 the post office even offered a guide to the murals' 12 panels. Descriptions are posted by each panel. The panels depict scenes from the history of Rhinebeck from 1686 to 1940.
New York Heritage Digital Collections presents images and artist's sketches from the time of the work's creation. Examples include Panel 3: "1728. Henry Beekman, 2nd, now forty and a Colonel, receives the midsummer's quit rent on his lawn, while four-year old daughter Margaret looks on," Panel 8: "Sunday morning before Dutch Reformed Church service," and Panel 9: "1865. A local family in Winter's Express is moving out West."
It is the image of a kneeling figure in the 1780's scene depicted in Panel 6b: "General Richard Montgomery and his wife, Janet Livingston, plant locust seedlings on what will become the lawn of "Grasmere"," along with the depiction of three enslaved Black men loading the steamboat "Clermont" in Panel 8, that led Laura Lennox Kufner to declare the work an "Ode to White Mastery" in an opinion piece published July 8th. New York Heritage Digital Collections describes the context for the former scene:
Notice Dows's inclusion of a black slave laborer in lower right corner. Slavery officially persisted in New York State until 1799. After 1799, any child born in New York State to a slave woman would be deemed free according to the 1799 Gradual Emancipation Bill, but would be required to serve his/her mother's master as an indentured servant until the age of 21, pending general emancipation in 1827. Children born to slave mothers on or before July 3rd, 1827 could legally be held as indentured servants until 1848.It is unclear whether concerns about these depictions are directly related to the mural's covering; however, local sources tell Postlandia that it is USPS's intention to cover not just Panels 6 and 8, but the entirety of the 12-panel mural.
- Louisburg, North Carolina: "Tobacco Auction," by Richard Kenah (1939). The artist "completed three post office murals: one in Bridgeport, Ohio, across the river from Wheeling; one in Bluefield, W.Va., built around a coal mining theme, and one in Louisburg, N.C., that focuses on a tobacco auction," wrote Christopher Kenah as part of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from 2003.
A recent petition to have the mural removed garnered more than 300 signatures. Creator Shardae Vines asserts:
This painting depicts white farmers buying and selling tobacco in an auction and shows African American men working without shirts and shoes. This is just one more unnecessary reminder of the inhumane conditions our African American ancestors were subjected to in an effort to survive economically all while building the wealth of this nation.
- Virginia Beach, VA: Princess Anne Station post office: "Old Dominion Conversation Piece," by John H.R. Pickett (1939). The historic post office building that had housed this artwork was sold by USPS and demolished a decade ago, and the mural underwent eight months of restoration prior to its installation at the Princess Anne post office. [Update, Sept. 4: A Twitter post presented to Postlandia shows the mural covered, in part, by a USPS banner. The image was taken July 4th, prior to the known beginnings of this initiative.] The following contextualizing text was posted in a display next to the mural:
Over the next six months, Pickett submitted pencil sketches of his mural theme and exchanged letters with the Section committee as suggestions and changes “for improvement” were made.When the author visited and photographed the artwork and installation last autumn, a couple approached him out of concern that his interest in the mural was negative. The ensuing discussion revealed that they were vehemently opposed to removing or covering the mural, should it endure complaints regarding controversial content.
The initial design Pickett submitted included the first ships to arrive in Virginia — the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery — as well as Neptune in the mural’s foreground. The Section did not find this to be a satisfactory design.
In the design that was ultimately selected, suggestions included authenticating the type of boat, changing its scale in the mural, improving the drawing of what were considered important female figures, and clothing the female Indian. The artist also submitted a color sketch in the scale of two inches to the foot for approval. ...
Pickett’s description of the design separated it into three aspects:
The center portion showed the arrival of the first women at Jamestown — tobacco brides — whose arrival assured the permanency of the settlement. They are shown with “evidences of the beginning of the American home.”
The left portion showed a cavalier, the growing tobacco, slaves rolling a tobacco hogshead, and an Indian squaw watching the arrival of the first white women.
In the right background, Pickett included the weighing of the tobacco which paid for the passage of the women.
The author invites journalists interested in pursuing this story to contact him for access to the FOIA response cited in this article. Thank youEvan K.