Life in the Mississippi Cotton Belt

Image used with permission of United States Post Office

Image used with permission of United States Post Office

Auriel Bessemer’s 1939 mural is one of a number of Mississippi post office murals, commissioned through the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts program, that depicted the cotton industry in the state.  Bessemer, daughter of Hungarian immigrants, was from Grand Rapids, Michigan (Susan M. Enzweiler. 1992. National Register of Historic Places nomination form).  Her many accomplishments included working with the Gallery of Modern Masters in Washington and the American Museum of Natural History in New York (Enzweiler).

Image used with permission of USPS.

Image used with permission of USPS.

In this close up of a section of the mural, note the gentleman (one of the workers I presume, given his darker complexion) who appears to be napping in full view of the overseer on the white horse.  I may be going out on a limb here, but I am going to call that most likely historically inaccurate.  Bessemer’s work would not be the first if it were to be criticized in later years for a romanticized depiction of the cotton industry’s labor practices.

Image used with permission of USPS.

Image used with permission of USPS.

Hazlehurst post office

In yet another very slight variation of the popular Colonial Revival style during the New Deal Administration years,the 1938 Hazlehurst version preceded the Crystal Springs post office featured last week.  Enzweiler notes in the nomination form:

…wooden fluted Doric pilasters…cast metal Eagle…English bond brick pattern…original wooden vestibule…marble wainscoting…terrrazzo floor.

Can you spot the differences?



Categories: Hazlehurst, New Deal, Post Offices

15 replies

  1. this mural is curious. i suppose the smoke belching factories would have been in celebration of industrial progress. and the man drawing a fish from the polluted waters clearly is not worried. also the cotton-pickers’ clothes seem almost like religious habits. and there is a melding of 19th and 20th century elements that is somehow a psychologically realistic expression of the south.

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  2. I surmised it might be a reference to the nearby Mississippi mills. Nelson-Easley referenced them and included pictures of them in her book on Copiah county.

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  3. Hmmm…. missing weathervane in Hazlehurst … and differences in the gutter system. Downspout visible in Crystal Springs – does Hazlehurst have box gutters?

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  4. I have to agree with the “romanticized depiction” theory. While I am enchanted with all these murals, and plan to make a mural tour someday, I have to look at this one and wonder how realistic it might be. I don’t think working in the fields was quite this clean and pleasant! But it does include all the elements of that era as well as realistic pine trees. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I am wondering if these post offices had the awnings when they were first built or if they were added in later years? It would be interesting to pull up a photo to compare.

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  6. Beautiful Flemish bond on the Hazlehurst PO and common bond at Crystal Springs.

    I like the Crystal Springs mural better because it seems more relevant to the geography. The Wesson explanation helps me understand it better than I did when I first saw it, but Hazlehurst, it seems to me, is closer in its economy to Crystal Springs than to Wesson, and besides the Wesson mills had been closed for over 20 years by this time.

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    • Thanks for the pointer on the bond–I actually meant to include that in the description and forgot it. Many of the murals depicted regional life and economy, and the subjects could range from early settlement to current. “Life in the Mississippi Cotton Belt” illustrated the various roles that the cotton industry played: growing it, picking it, ginning it, shipping the bales out (on the riverboat), processing it.

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  7. The differences I see are in signage and the front doors having different light configurations. Both building might have a built in gutter but its hard to tell with the angle of the photo of the Crystal Springs PO. Bing and Google aerial views didn’t provide enough detail to be able to tell.

    I might just be slow to pick up on this, but this mural is signed by the artist and includes Washington D.C. and a year. Have other murals you’ve seen included this feature?

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    • Good note of more distinguishing characteristics. Hint 2: It has to do with the front entrance.

      Some I have photographed are not signed, and rarely do the ones signed have the date. I don’t recall seeing the place before this one. One (from Eastland, Texas) included a little horned toad–Ol Rip–part of local folklore. I will have to do a review. I have done many more of them in Arkansas and Texas, so will check them as well.

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  8. Front entrances differ in size??

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  1. Miss Pres Architectural Word of the Week: English Bond « Preservation in Mississippi

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