When Black Friday hit this nation in 1929 thousands were thrown out of work. More soup kitchens opened and bread lines increased.
A plan was created by many groups to aid those facing unemployment. One of these groups affected were the artists in this country. Not only did this plan help them financially, it also recognized them as artists and exposed citizens to art in a public way that was free and educational. Artists were supplied with various supplies. Artists had to show the financial need they had concerning their need to take on these mural contracts. Ninety percent of these artists had to be on relief or indigent.
In Indiana, 37 mural commissions were made. Thirty-six of these remain today. These commissions were for artists to create murals for not only our post offices, but also for state and federal buildings around the country.
Over 4,000 were employed to complete this task. This artwork was to depict each post office and local in their historical context. This plan was the same for other state and federal buildings. These plans ran from 1934 to 1943.
In 1943, funding was withdrawn from agencies that had handled funding. The secretary of treasury created a Section of Painting and Sculpture, to secure suitable art for these buildings. The Federal Arts Project and the W.P.A., to mention just two, were groups who had earlier helped to fund this effort.
Next, the subject of good art became a topic. Artists that took these tasks on had to meet technical and aesthetic standards. These standards included critical correspondence between Washington and artists.
Correspondence fills our archives and are filled with demands that Washington was concerned with regarding what artists could and could not do.
From what I have read the artists were paid in three payments. The start of their work, if accepted the next section and final payment made on completion of the project. Both male and female artists were accepted.
The Section of Fine arts and Sculpture was a major player in deciding which works were accepted and others that weren’t. Many of these judges were ranking artists in their own right.
Some of the concerns this Section had were color, size of people, accuracy of animal depiction, and placement of items in the murals. Artists were asked to visit the community where the mural would be placed, and to pay attention to the history of these communities.
Some artists made as many as a dozen changes before their murals were accepted. Post offices sometimes had to remove oil paint and clean walls. Canvases, where a mural was painted, were pasted on the wall after the wall was prepared.
The mural at our Pendleton Post Office is awesome and was accepted with few changes. The artist, William Kaeser, did not do any other murals.
An issue that eventually came up was cleaning and/or restoring these murals. The lesson learned was, be sure and check the qualifications of those who take this on.
I hope that you will visit our post office, take your kids and hear their comments on this art.
The text I read was titled “The Story of Indiana Post Office Murals,” and can be found at the Pendleton Community Library. Enjoy.
A final note – these artists were paid in the hundreds and some a thousand or so.
Our postmaster told me that our mural has been cleaned twice. The lady who came to do it had to peel it off the wall. She did the cleaning and some restoration at another site. She was forward thinking, to when it would need cleaning again, and framed the mural before returning it to the wall. Smart lady.
Enjoy your visit to this post office.