Murals are the oldest human art form, as cave paintings
at numerous ancient human settlements suggest,
and can be found all over the Earth.
Since people arrived on earth there have been murals. The history
of mural painting is rich and varied, from the prehistoric cave
paintings to the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Diego Rivera and Michelangelo.
According to art historians, mural painting dates back at
least 40,000 years. These ancient murals typically depict the
activities of a particular civilization‘s people, saving a moment in time, and range
from scenes of hunting, gathering,
and family life, to religious and funeral scenes.
Murals change from culture to culture and from time period to
time period. Mural art appears on the walls and ceilings
of interior and exterior spaces, ranging from palaces, temples, and tombs, to museums,
libraries, churches, and other public buildings.
US Post Office Murals
were produced in the United States from 1934 to 1943, through commissions from
the Procurement Division of the United States Department of the Treasury.
The principal objective was to secure artwork that met high artistic standards
for public buildings, where it was accessible to all people. The murals were
intended to boost the morale of the American people suffering from the effects
of the Depression by depicting uplifting subjects the people knew and loved.
Murals produced through the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and
Sculpture (1934-43) were funded as a part of the cost of the construction of
new post offices, with 1% of the cost set aside for artistic enhancements.
Murals were commissioned through competitions open to all artists in the
United States. Almost 850 artists were commissioned to paint 1371 murals,
most of which were installed in post offices; 162 of the artists were
women and three were African American. The Treasury Relief Art Project (1935-38),
which provided artistic decoration for existing Federal buildings, produced a
smaller number of post office murals. TRAP was established with funds from
the Works Progress Administration. The Section supervised the creative output
of TRAP, and selected a master artist for each project. Assistants were then
chosen by the artist from the rolls of the WPA Federal Art Project.
Artists were asked to paint in an "American scene" style, depicting ordinary
citizens in a realistic manner. Abstract and modern art styles were discouraged.
Artists were also encouraged to produce works that would be appropriate to the
communities where they were to be located and to avoid controversial subjects.
Projects were closely scrutinized by the Section for style and content, and
artists were paid only after each stage in the creative process was approved.
The Section and the Treasury Relief Art Project were overseen by Edward Bruce,
who had directed the Public Works of Art Project (1933-34). They were
commission-driven public work programs that employed artists to beautify
American government buildings, strictly on the basis of quality. This contrasts
with the work-relief mission of the Federal Art Project (1935-43) of the
Works Progress Administration, the largest of the New Deal art projects.
So great was its scope and cultural impact that the term "WPA" is often
mistakenly used to describe all New Deal art, including the U.S. post office murals.
The murals are the subject of efforts by the United States Postal Service
to preserve and protect them. This is particularly important and problematical as
some of them have disappeared or deteriorated. Some are ensconced in buildings that
are worth far less than the artwork.