John E. Costigan's "Receiving the Mail on the Farm" was
installed in the Stuart, Virginia Post Office in 1942. This mural is the third of
three very similar post office murals completed by Costigan and commissioned by
the Section of Fine Arts of the U.S. Department of the Treasury as part of the
New Deal public works. The other two were installed in Rensselaer, Indiana in
1939 (with the mural having the same title) and in Girard, Ohio in 1938 which
has since been inadvertently destroyed in 1962 and was titled Workers of the
Soil. All three post office murals depict a similar scene of a farming family
pausing their work to read the mail they had received.
The Stuart and Rensselaer
murals portray a father reading to his wife and children what could be an invoice
for the bags of seed pictured while draft horses wait patiently for the work
to continue. In both paintings the mother is holding a small child. There is
an obvious contrast between the Stuart and Rensselaer murals. The Stuart
mural is brightly colored and draws your eyes right to the feminine mother.
Rensselaer s mural is quite the opposite. Costigan uses very dark colors and draws
your eyes to the masculine father. It is said that Costigan used his family
as muses for the figures in his art and often likened the female figures to
his wife, Ida.
The subject of many of Costigan's works have been centered
on landscapes and family, two things Stuart and Patrick County have a
great abundance of, making this community a fitting location for the mural.
Location: 101 N. Main St
John Edward Costigan was born in 1888 in Province,
Rhode Island. Orphaned at 13, he went to New York City, got a job with a lithography
company, ultimately became a sketch artist, and worked there on and off until 1930.
A self-taught artist, Costigan was quickly successful enough to exhibit a painting
at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., in 1916. After serving in the U.S. Army
in World War I, he married Ida Blessin, a sculptor who had served as a model for
his paintings. They bought an 11-acre farm in Orangeburg, New York, then a small
rural community about 25 miles north of New York City. His family and the farm
are the subject of much of his art.
His art flourished in the 1920's. He won 19
prizes, among them 5 prizes from both Art Institute of Chicago and the National
Academy of Design including its Saltus gold medal as well as 4 prizes from
New York's Salmagundi Club and 3 from the American Watercolor Society. In 1921,
at New York s Rehm Gallery, he had his first one-man exhibition.
Elected to the National Academy of Fine Arts he was thereby entitled to add
after his last name the initials N.A., which stand for National Academician.
His art found a ready market in these years, and as a result much of it now
hangs in museums across the country. His second solo exhibit came in 1927 at
the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Great Depression began in October 1929,
leading to the closing of factories and businesses and to bank failures.
Unemployment rose rapidly until it peaked at 25% of the workforce of the nation
in 1933. Costigan was unable to sell his art, and there were fewer exhibitions
with smaller prizes. President Franklin Roosevelt's administration developed a
variety of programs to provide work for the unemployed, including programs for
artists. In addition to the three commissions Costigan received to paint murals
in post offices for the Treasury Department's Section for Fine Arts, he and Ida
were employed by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
When the federal art projects ended at the beginning of World War II,
Costigan found work at a defense plant. Able to devote himself more fully
to his art in the 1950's, he won 20 prizes.
The first major retrospective of
his career was held at the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1965 when
he was 72. Costigan's crowning recognition came in 1972 when New York's Salmagundi
Club awarded him its Benjamin West Clinedinst Medal for distinguished achievement
in painting. Other retrospectives were hosted after his death, notable among them
a retrospective of his prints at the Swope Museum of Art in Terre Haute, Indiana
in 2000. Costigan died in 1972, Ida in 1975. They are buried in the cemetery of
St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church in Nanuet, New York, not far from their