Searching for America's 1930s Post Office Murals: A PhotoessayBreaking News
tags: Postal Service, USPS, New Deal, public art, WPA, Federal Artists Project
The instinct to try to boost morale during a time of hardship and suffering resonates today as we face the pandemic and economic recession.
Almost 90 years ago during the Great Depression, with the unemployment rate hovering between 20 and 30%, the United States government sought ways to lift up its citizens.
Modeled on the 1933 Public Works Art Project, the federal government created the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture a year later (the name was subsequently changed to the Section of Fine Arts).
These programs were designed to employ artists.
Under the program, 1% of each federal building’s construction budget was designated to the creation of public art. The result was more than 1,200 murals being painted in post offices throughout the United States.
The mission of the post office murals was multifaceted – to boost morale in communities, employ artists by the thousands and create world-class art that was accessible to everyone. The murals revolved around local folklore, landscapes, industry and, unsurprisingly, mail delivery. They told the story of life across the United States.
The first mural I photographed occurred by happenstance – I stumbled upon a mural depicting the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. From there the project slowly grew, as I traveled around the country seeking out the unique art of the post office mural.
I’ve now photographed about 325 individual murals though I don’t have an actual tally.