Suzassippi’s Mississippi: Amory Post Office Mural

Amory in 1889, by John McCrady, 1939. Used with permission of the United States Postal Service.

Amory in 1889, by John McCrady, 1939. Used with permission of the United States Postal Service.

During the Great Depression, murals were commissioned for federal, state, and local buildings by the federal government in what has been called

…the most innovative and comprehensive program for government patronage in American history. (Parks & Markowitz, 1984, p. 5, as cited in Stevens & Fogel, 2010)

Mural painting was particularly prominent among the art work produced during this period (Stevens & Fogel, 2010).  I’ll be on the road in the months ahead in search of the ones in Mississippi.  How did the support for the arts come about as part of the New Deal?  Harry Hopkins, relief administrator, is said to have responded to the criticism of federal support for the arts, “…[artists] have got to eat just like other people” (Raynor, 1997). Who was the master mind behind the idea to create employment for artists, and to provide art for the people?

[George] Biddle, who became known as the ‘father of federal art projects,’ believed [the social experiment of Mexican President Alvaro Obregon during the 1920s, in which artists painted murals in public spaces praising the ideals of the Mexican Revolution] could be imported into the United States not only to keep artists employed in time of severe economic hardship, but to popularize Roosevelt’s New Deal on the walls of America…(McKinzie, 1973, as cited in Stevens & Fogel, 2010)

The walls of America included post offices all over the nation.  Almost every community had a post office, and almost everyone in the community would be in the post office at some point, so placing murals there made them accessible to the public (Raynor, 1997). There were two distinct schools of mural painting: that of the Social Realists, and that of the Regionalists, which is found predominantly in the rural Southern states.  John McCrady of Mississippi, “one of the best-known 20th century southern artists” (Bonner, 2012) was selected to paint the mural for the Amory post office.

Image used with permission of the United States Postal Service

Image used with permission of the United States Postal Service

Sue Bridwell Beckham compares the Amory painting to

…a mediaeval triptych with separate but interrelated scenes from town life, brought together by an 1888 locomotive in the background to suggest the importance of the railroad in Amory’s history…several men with shotguns confront a stranger just arrived by train, while a sign reads “Amory wants no yellow fever strangers.  Keep Out!” (Howell, 1992)

Amory post office

The Colonial Revival building, recalling the Georgian Style, was constructed in 1937 and is one of 32 post offices constructed in Mississippi with PWA funds (Fazio, Parrish, Blackwell, & Frank, 1979).  The building, on the National Register of Historic Places, features significant detail of the cupola, fanlights in the gables, and frontispiece with an eagle motif (Fazio, et al.).  The windows have limestone lintels and sills.

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The eagle motif is described as a “high relief cast stone eagle approximately two feet high” (Fazio, et al.).

Howell (1992) documents that the Amory mural

has received the most attention [of Mississippi murals] and John McCrady’s collaboration with the local people was particularly fortunate (p.5).

McCrady painted himself into the mural–he is the man standing on the balcony in the center of the mural, with his arms outstretched.  Painting himself into his work occurred in at least one other instance, when he painted himself painting a nude woman on the street, in the midst of a Mardi Gras parade (Bonner, 2012).  Apparently, the artist had a sense of humor.  Other humorous examples in the mural include the town drunk, pigs in the street, and gossiping women.  Perhaps that makes up for the inhospitable welcome to the stranger.

References:

Bonner, J. H. (2012, August 21). John McCrady. Retrieved December 14, 2012 from KnowLA Encylopedia of Louisiana http://www.knowla.org/entry.php?rec=590

Fazio, M. W., Parrish, W. E., Blackwell, T., & Frank, C. (1979). Nomination form, National Register of Historic Places, US Post Office, Amory. Retrieved December 14, 2012 from http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/nom/prop/23772.pdf.

Howell, E. (1992). Mississippi Scenes: Notes on Literature and History.

Raynor, P. (1997). Off the Wall: New Deal Post Office Murals. EnRoute, 6(4).

Stevens, R. L., & Fogel, J. A. (2010). Conflict and Consensus: New Deal Mural Post Office Art. National Social Science Journal, 33(2).



Categories: Amory, Historic Preservation, New Deal, Post Offices

10 replies

  1. Delightful to see this one too! The locomotive in the background is great as Amory was founded by the KCMB Railroad and celebrates town history with the Amory Railroad Festival (April 11-14, 2013) that has been held for over 30 years. It’s a good’un for kids and adults who love trains.

  2. MrCrady became a great friend of Mr. E. C. Gilmore of Amory during the process. McCrady came back to Amory bringing his bride for a visit. Communication continued for years between Gilmore and McCrady. I have copies several of the letters between the two while decisions were made about the mural.

  3. Thank you for another mural and all the references! I just love these!

  4. McCrady lived in Oxford as a child, and, as an adult, did several brilliant paintings here. One is in the city hall, in the Mayor’s office, and is a view of the square from roughly about where Big Star is, or perhaps Krogers, at a time the trees were lower.

    There are two other paintings that Will Lewis, Sr., bought for the Bank of Oxford, back in the 30s– huge, mural sized paintings, one on the Square, the other in front of the Lyceum building. After hanging in the bank for decades, the bank sold, an an interior decorator (I will not name him) convinced them to remove the paintings as inappropriate, and (I’m told) Will Lewis, Jr., bought them back for what they’d been paid for, decades before. From roughly 1990ish until 2010, they hung in the bar at the Downtown Grill, also overlooking the Square, and were the best reason to go into that bar. As I understand it, when the Grill sold, they were donated to the University Museum. I have not sought them out there, but they are very much worth seeing.

    One could do a really great ‘secret art’ tour of North Mississippi, following through on a number of artists that have never fully got their due. In Holly Springs, there’s the Kate Freeman Clark museum, by appointment, but some brilliant paintings of hers also lurking in the City Hall and the city museum. There’s the Theora Hamblett collection in the University Museum in Oxford, along with the (slightly harder to fully see) sculpture of folk artist Sultan Rogers, also (somewhat) available in that museum. And then, there’s the McCrady works, noted above. All major, interesting material, not widely known. At the same time, the University Museum has serious collections of Eggleston die transfers, Christenberry, etc, along with folk art other than Rogers…. Plus a Man Ray painting!

  5. Oh, and, great post, Suzassippi. McCrady also painted himself into one of the local paintings (I think the one with the Lyceum?) I noted above.

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