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On a history note | U.S. Post Office mural in West Bend, WI dates to Depression Era

West Bend, WI – An interesting piece of Depression-era history hangs in the U.S. Post Office in West Bend, WI.
Post office mural, depression
“The Rural Mail Carrier” by Peter Rotier has been on display since 1937. The mural depicts a farming scene with a postal carrier in the foreground delivering mail via horse and carriage.
The painting is a direct result of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was designed to stimulate the economy by using federal money to create jobs for unemployed artists.
Click HERE to read more on the WPA and Post office art in The Smithsonian
“It’s very classic regionalism from the 1930s,” said Graeme Reid with the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
Post office mural
The painting of rolling hills is indicative of the Kettle Moraine. There’s “a rather interesting slight stylization rounding of curves and forms in the piece,” according to Reid but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary.
“The colors are somewhat subdued and muted,” he added guessing the painting needs a good cleaning.
The West Bend Post Office was built in 1936 and back in the day, people were allowed to smoke indoors in Federal buildings. Reid said that cigarette smoke and other airborne materials have probably turned the pallet of colors to darker browns and reds.
Employees at the West Bend Post Office remember the 1970s when workers sorting mail had letters in one hand and a cigarette in another; the atmosphere was a blue haze of smoke and an ashtray within easy reach.
According to Thomas F. O’Meara III there was another mural on the opposite wall, “alas it is no longer there.”
Jeff's Spirits on Main
According to an article by Mary Michie in Wisconsin Art History, the Public Works Art Project and the Section of Painting and Sculpture where murals and sculpture commissioned by the Treasury Department for hundreds of post offices and courthouses under construction.
According to Michie, “approximately one percent of the construction costs for the buildings were allocated for artwork.”
There were parameters for the pieces, which Reid said had to appeal to the majority.
“Because they were paid for with federal money, there could be no nudes, no abstraction and no hint of communism; the piece had to play to local tastes and surroundings,” Reid said.

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The paintings are not considered rare, there are 27 other Post Office murals and reliefs across Wisconsin.
 The Museum of Wisconsin Art also has the painting on collection from Hudson, Wisconsin.
“Unloading a Riverboat at Hudson” was painted by Ruth Grotenrath and previously hung in the Hudson Post Office.
Neighboring communities with WPA art also include Hartford, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan and Mayville which also has a piece completed by Peter Rotier.
 Although many in the community may not be aware of the painting’s tie to the depression, Reid said West Bend is very lucky to have the piece.
 “I’m not sure if people in the community really understand the relevance but we should be glad the Post Office has hung onto it because a lot of these works have been lost over the years.”

 

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