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United States Post Office Murals

By November 8, 2017No Comments

These are murals that are noteworthy that were made in the New Deal art done between 1934 and 1943. The US Department of the Treasury commissioned this painting. During the commission, there was a considerable level of competition, and only the selected got commissioned.

There were 1400 murals made for federal post office buildings all over the US. 1300 cities got murals in their post offices under the new deal. The efforts of the respective post offices to take care of the walls determine the state of the paintings now.

The New Deal came up during the great depression, and one of its projects was the public works of art project. The project was born in 1933, and its main aim was to get artists in the job market and give assurance to a hopeless nation that times would get better and that they would recover financially.


The construction of federal buildings that came about in 1933 had $145 million set aside for this works. The federal buildings included courthouses, post offices, libraries, and schools. The public works of art project oversaw the production of 15660 artworks by over 3750 artists. Of the 15000 works of art, 700 were murals that were for public display.

The public works of art project came to an end in 1934. The success of the project was recognized, and in its honor, the section of painting and sculpture began, and it was under the US Treasury. The part was expected to carry on the activities of the public works project and take forward its successes.

The part of painting and sculpture tried to reach as many people as they could and therefore decided to look for the places that most people visited and often. The post office in those times was a very popular place that had a lot of people going in and out of at all times. The section, therefore, got their center for the most impact to the people.


In every post office, a 12×5 oil painting on canvas was to be put up on the walls of post offices. Each post office had a construction budget that the section gave recommendations for 1% of it was put into the painting of the murals.

Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) was established in 1935 and got funding by the Works Progress Administration (WAP). The newly formed TRAP was to provide decorative details for the already existent federal buildings. The section was in charge of TRAP and supervised all their works. Once the creative ideas process came to an end, the lead artist for each building was selected and then given assistants from the Federal Art Project of WPA.

Edward Bruce led the section and TRAP. The aim of these projects was to decorate and add beauty to government buildings all over America. Every painting put up on a government building had to be a quality painting that did not raise any controversy of an issue among the people. The murals were expected to have an enormous positive impact on the people and the American culture.


The art was successfully put up and served their purpose for a considerable amount of time, but the task of protecting and taking care of the murals fell to the post offices. The problem was that most of the post offices let the murals deteriorate. Only a few were taken care of. In some instances, the paintings were put in ancient buildings which made them lose their value faster.

Controversies surrounding the United States Post Office Murals

Controversies always find a way of cropping up even when all the right methods have been followed to the letter. In this case, people brought up issues with the selection of the artists working on the murals. The rural people saw the selection of outsider artists as an insult to them.

For the people, outsider artists would not know their culture and in turn not express the culture and practices of those individuals in the murals. They were opposed to ideas that were not local. The south side states mostly disliked that a painter who had no experience in rural life could paint and depict their life. Having strangers put up their works in places that they had never before visited did not sit well with the locals.


The states that were local were poor, and most of the population was illiterate especially the state of Arkansas. The fact that the murals sent to their post offices only focused on the worst conditions of the people. Though right, it did not make the people appreciate the art project.

Since a mural, the paintings on the buildings were permanent, most states rejected the depiction of their states as poor and illiterate of in other cases as violent because that was not the legacy that they wanted their children and the coming generations to find. It led to artists being asked to present sketches before the final work was selected. Paintings of hope for the future were preferred by most people.

Selection Process for Artists

When the section came about, they did not continue the tradition of the public works of the art project of paying artists by the hour. They instead awarded contracts to the artists, and they got paid depending on the works that they produced. The artists were from those who had entered regional and national art competitions.


Those who wanted to take part presented their sketches to a committee that would then judge their works. The sketches had to be anonymous ton eliminate any favoritism. The best designs selected were then sent to the section of fine arts where the artists’ final battle round for a position went down.

There were still complaints from the local artists that there was favoritism and corruption and only the known artists got the contracts. After the selection, artists then went through a test which was to paint an American scene. Controversial paintings were discouraged and disqualified if produced. The artists only got paid after the approval of their work.