Magnolia: Three New Deal Murals in One Post Office

"July 4th Celebration"Image used with permission of United States Postal Service.

“July 4th Celebration”

This week, we profile the seventh of the 32 post office in Mississippi which were built, and decorated with “art for the people” under the auspices of the New Deal Administration.  Magnolia boasts three murals (“… one of a handful in the country with more than one mural” according to Debra Purnell, 2004, “Windows on the Past” in the UM Quest) completed through the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts relief work program.  The largest mural occupies the wall over the postmaster’s door, the common location for most post office murals.  Artist John H. Fyfe completed and installed the three murals in 1939, at a cost of $1, 120.000 (Susan M. Enzweiler, 1993, National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Magnolia Post Office).  “July 4th Celebration” depicts a “holiday feast in the early 19th century” according to Enzweiler.  Other sources (for example, wpamurals.com and newdealartregistry.org label the painting as “July 4th Celebration at Sheriff Bacot’s.”

"Cotton Harvest"Image used with permission of USPS

“Cotton Harvest”

The local committee was so impressed with Fyfe’s work that they commissioned two additional murals, which resulted in “Cotton Harvest” depicting field laborers loading cotton, and “Magnolia, 1880” depicting a cotton broker inspecting cotton on the downtown Magnolia street.

"Magnolia, 1880"Image used with permission of USPS

“Magnolia, 1880”

All three murals were restored in 1992 by Stewart-Treviranus Associates of McLean, Virginia.  Fyfe also painted a mural for the Camden, Tennessee Post Office.

The WPA projects have not been without their criticisms of how race was depicted, although Fyfe at least represents an historical period with what would have likely been an accurate depiction.  (See, for example, the illustration of the laborers in the cotton industry in the story Cotton and the Civil War.)  Cory Pillen (2008, WPA Posters and the Mapping of a New Deal Democracy, The Journal of American Culture, 31,1) provided an excellent analysis of the Federal Art Project (FAP) program to create the “See America” tourism posters.  Pillen’s work addresses many of the criticisms that are applicable to many of the New Deal murals, even though she is referencing the “See America” posters.

By downplaying the reality of Native and African Americans in national life, the “See America” series perpetuated prejudices that were deeply embedded in American culture and maintained by the Roosevelt administration…many of its programs institutionalized racial discrimination.  The WPA, for instance, forced rural workers, many of whom were African Americans, off relief and into farm work during the cotton-picking season, and act that appeased the southern congressmen representing plantation owners and perpetuated a culture of discrimination that the “See America” series suggests was alive and well throughout the depression.

Enzweiler described the post office building details:

…doorway flanked by wooden Doric pilasters supporting an architrave with dentils…recessed panel with a brick voissoir surround…cast stone eagle one foot tall…

The building, constructed by Pittman Brothers Construction Company from New Orleans (MDAH/HRI database)  retains its original wooden entry vestibule, as well as other original features.  It sits off the downtown strip about a block, facing a residential street.  Wave to the friendly couple on the front porch just opposite the building when you go visit!

**All images used with permission of the U.S. Postal Service



Categories: Historic Preservation, Magnolia, Post Offices

8 replies

  1. For the past couple of weeks I have been unable to open links embedded in the emails that I receive from you. Typically, I open your email, read the headline and then click on the link to read more. In the past this has worked to open the links and allow me to scroll thru the entire email. However, for the past few weeks when I click on the read more link, a page opens but the page will freeze and I am unable to scroll to read the rest of the content. I have to restart my computer to move away from the frozen page. I have found this to be the problem on different computers that I use. Have others reported similar problems with their emails. I enjoy reading the information contained in your emails and would like to continue. Any suggested fix to my problem would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Clarence DuBose

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    • Hmm, let me look into this further, but first can you tell me what web browser you use (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.)? and second, do you remember if this corresponded to the change in the blog’s look, which happened around mid-March?

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  2. Well, Suzassippi, you have astonished me finding three murals in Magnolia, because I was just in this building on Saturday and only saw the big one over the postmaster’s office. Took pictures all through the interior lobby, and the other two show up now that I go back and look, but at the time, I was completely oblivious to the two smaller ones. Spring Fever maybe :-)

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  3. Do we know if any of these buildings are in danger of being sold by the USPS?

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  4. Three in one place! Wonderful! I do like them all but, the Fourth of July is an endearing scene. Reminds me of “dinner on the grounds” at Camp Meeting. I think the wooden tables give it a sense of realism. As much as i enjoy these murals, I do have to agree that the series probably did perpetuate predjudices that were prevelant at that time. Very interesting aspect, thank you for sharing.

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  5. Thank you for sharing these beautiful murals. Post offices throughout the country are located in some of the most beautiful historic structures and unfortunately many are slated for sale due to the economy.

    We represent the historic landmarked Skykomish Hotel in WA state which may well be lost without some assistance. We would appreciate if you would view our campaign to raise funds http://alturl.com/wv3zu, contribute and spread the word.

    Thank you.

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