Post Office Murals

This Murals project is done in response to the isolation and boredom accompanying Covid 19. It requires visiting post office murals created back in the 1930s and 1940s. In that very tough time these murals were part of Roosevelt's plan to encourage the populace and pay some out-of-work artists. This effort was called the Works Progress Administration, part of the New Deal Program. They also hired out of work writers and editors to produce WPA travel guides. So visiting and photographing all the murals in Virginia became an obsession of sorts and a fun adventure. I visited some places that I otherwise would never have even thought of. And, most importantly, I met and talked with some very interesting people. And I learned about some gifted, sometimes curious, artists.

The first mural of course was the closest to me and only a few miles away in Bassett, VA. This mural unfortunately is painted fresco right on the plaster wall. It is beautiful but can't be moved in the event that the building becomes unusable. Anyone want a wall? It is a picture of furniture workers of course - that's what Bassett is all about. Things have changed somewhat in manufacturing but Bassett Furniture is still alive and well. The mural title is "Manufacture of Furniture" and was painted by Walter Carnelli in 1939.

The second mural visited is my favorite and is found in Stuart, VA which also isn't too far away - about 40 miles. It was painted by John E. Costigan in 1942 and is an oil painting on canvas. Its title is "Receiving Mail on the Farm". Stuart was my Father's boyhood home so it is a special place for me.

Post Office Mural, Depression Era, Chatham, VA (Olympus Pen-F)
Another mural is found in Chatham, VA. It is entitled "Harvest Season in Southern Virginia" and was painted by Carson Davenport in 1938. It is oil on canvas but impossible to view in full for a good photograph. In visiting this post office I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Hurt who runs Shadetree Rare Books just across the street. He has a smaller painting by Carson Davenport which he bought long ago in New York. It hangs in his store and is a view of Danville from Mr. Davenport's kitchen window. I remembered that Averett College in Danville has a Davenport Hall but never knew why it was named that. Mr. Hurt had tried to give the kitchen window painting to Averett but they weren't interested. And so it goes.

This photo was taken in the Rocky Mount, VA post office. It is entitled "Life In Rocky Mount" and was painted in 1938 on 3 panels by Roy Hilton. I had to take this photo through the door as the postmaster had locked up and gone to lunch. Leaving Rocky Mount I drove across route 40 (an awful, narrow, 2 lane, busy road through beautiful country) to Altavista, VA. for the next photo.

This photo from Altavista, VA emphasizes the industrial and rail line importance of the town. It was painted in 1940, oil on canvas, by Herman Maril. In searching for this photo I mistakenly first went to Gretna but in the process met with a postmaster who pointed me to Altavista and told me a lot about the photo. Also, thanks to the postmaster I located an old college era friend, Keith, in Gretna.

Post Office Mural Berryville, VA
I rode with daughter Margaret out route 7 from Leesburg to reach Berryville, VA and this painting. It is entitled "Clark County Products, 1939". I remember thinking that day that I had never heard of Clark County, VA. It was painted in 1940 by Edwin S. Lewis. While there we visited an old Episcopal Church and took many pictures of Halloween related scenes. We also stopped at Nalls Farm Market where we bought some yummies and 2 very heavy statues, Yoda and Frankenstein, for our porch and garden. The owner of Nalls related that his wife is from Hillsville, VA (near me) and related to Floyd Allen made famous in the 1912 Courthouse shootout. Clark County is beautiful country.

Post Office Mural Orange, VA
This unusual painting in Orange, VA was done by Arnold Friedman in 1938. It is an oil painting entitled "Upland Pastures" and is the only painting with an explanation posted for public view. I had never been to Orange; it is due east from Charlottsville and driving there was a pleasant trip. Later a lady told me she lived in Orange for years and went in the Post Office often but didn't remember the painting. Mr. Friedman was totally self taught and worked at a non art related job. In his spare time he kept practicing his painting skills in his attic.

And these remain: Appalachia, Arlington (6), Bluefield, Christiansburg, Emporia, Harrisonburg, Hopewell, Luray, Petersburg (2), Phoebus, Radford, Richmond (6), Smithfield, Strasburg, Tazewell, and Virginia Beach!


Elva Adams ~ 2021-22