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.
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)
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.
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.
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).