Following the trail of post office murals

by marlys good

People choose vacation destinations in different ways and for different reasons. But for the past five years Ron Campbell, a high school teacher from Michigan, has been following the trails of post office murals from Massachusetts to the frontiers of Wyoming. Campbell came into the Standard office Aug. 3, immediately after stopping at the Greybull Post Office to see the mural, “Chuck Wagon Serenade” on the east wall.

Did we know the history behind our mural and the 1,000 others painted on post office walls in towns/cities stretching across the United States from coast to coast during the depression-era, he wanted to know?

When we admitted we did not, it was a natural step to get a face-to-face history lesson from a government/psychology teacher whose passions include art and paintings, especially depression era art.

According to Campbell (and Google), as one of the projects in President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was developed to bring artist workers back into the job market and assure the American public that better financial times were on the way.

In 1933, nearly $145 million in public funds were appropriated for the construction of federal buildings, i.e. courthouses, schools, libraries, post offices and other public structures.

Under the direction of the PWAP, the agency oversaw the production of 15,660 works of art by 3,750 artists. With the ending of the PWAP in the summer of 1934, it was decided the program should be extended and thus the Section of Painting and Sculpture under the U.S. Treasury Department was founded.

The section focused on reaching as many American citizens as possible. Since local post offices seemed to be the most frequented government buildings by the public, the section requested that murals, approximately 12’ by 5’ oil paintings on canvas, be placed on the wall of the new constructed post offices exclusively. It was recommended that 1 percent of the money budgeted for each post office be set aside for the creation of the murals which would help put out-of-work artists back to work.

Campbell is originally from Iowa, and it was when he was visiting his father in Mount Ayr, Iowa, that he saw his first post office mural.

That mural inspired him to seek further information, and thus began his quest of visiting all 1,000 post offices in the United States where the murals were commissioned.

His 2015 vacation brought him to Greybull and “Chuck Wagon Serenade” and to Powell and “Powell’s Agriculture Resulting from the Shoshone Irrigation Project,” then on to Glacier and “Young Grizzly Bears.”

Also included in this “vacation” were visits to post offices in Deer Lodge and Hamilton, Mont. Thus far his quest to visit all 1,000 post offices took him to number 300 plus a couple.

Does he plan to continue his “trail of the murals?”

“Oh, yeah,” he quickly answered.

“Chuck Wagon Serenade” is one of his favorites, at least out of the 300 or so he’s seen.

Photos he took of the painting will be enlarged and mounted on the wall of his Michigan classroom where it will join three of his other favorites, “Indians Demanding a Wagon Toll,” “Texas Rangers, the Law,” and “The Corn Parade” on the walls of post offices in Langdon, N.D., Smithville, Texas and Ayr, Iowa respectively.

The enlarged photos pique the interest of his students and Campbell is quick to share the history behind the New Deal project.

Thus far, Campbell has visited post offices in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Ohio, Wyoming, North Dakota, Wyoming and Iowa.

Where the road will lead, and to what post office, will be decided as vacation, 2016, draws closer.



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