I was excited when the National Museum of the American Indian approached the National Postal Museum to co-sponsor a virtual exhibit on post office murals focused on the American Indian. We had taken a similar approach in 2001 in developing the successful virtual stamp exhibit, The American Indian in Stamps: Profiles in Leadership Accomplishments and Culture Celebration.
Post office murals were actually executed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts. Commonly known as "the Section," it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department. Headed by Edward Bruce, a former lawyer, businessman, and artist, the Section's main function was to select art of high quality to decorate public buildings, including post offices, if funding was available, thus making the art accessible to everyone. The result was scenes reflecting America's history and way of life decorate all sizes of walls, mainly in post offices, throughout the United States.
Artists were provided guidelines and themes for executing their mural studies. They engaged in often lengthy negotiations between the Post Office Department, the town, and other interested parties before paintings could begin. Many local communities deemed the approved designs unacceptable due to theme, content, design elements and/or method of expression. Artists were constantly reminded the communities were their patrons, and they must go to great lengths to satisfy the desires of everyone involved in the project in order to save their commissions.
Genre themes were the most popular subject matter for post office murals, one of which the American Indian. The tragic was to be avoided; the heroic was to be celebrated and embraced. Historical events, daring and courageous acts were also popular themes.
This virtual exhibit looks only at murals depicting the American Indians’ political, economic and cultural lives. Their ability to rise above the mainstream non-Native world is exceptionally shown. I recommend turning the page, looking at the art, putting yourself in the artist’s shoes and imagining how you would paint them.
Winton M. Blount Chair in Research - Emeritus
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Thomas Lera, Winton M. Blount Chair in Research
United States Postal Service
Daniel Dalahaye, Federal Preservation Officer
Dallan Wordekemper, Real Estate Specialist/Federal Preservation Officer
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Sandra Starr, Senior Researcher, Emerita, IPO Editor and Virtual Exhibition Curator
Project Manager: RoseMaria Romero Estévez, Zapotec, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Themes Author: Dr. Jose Barreiro, Taino, Assistant Director, Department of History and Culture Research Museum Scholarship Group, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Original Virtual Exhibit Designer: Bill Lommel, National Postal Museum
Researchers and Writers:
Krystal Adams, contributing photographer, 2013 Intern, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Kathryn Dantzlerward, 2013 Intern, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Patricia Jollie, Confederated Salish /Kootenai Nations, Researcher Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Dylan Kitchell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Haskell Indian Nations University, Kansas
Emily M. McGowan, 2014 Intern Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Meghan A. Navarro, 2012 and 2013 Intern, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, 2013 Scholarship Winner, Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Denise Neil-Binion, Delaware/Cherokee Nation, PhD Candidate, Art History, University of Oklahoma
Reuben Noah, Choctaw/Kickapoo/Iowa Nations, Fellow, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Gray Brechin, Ph.D, Project Scholar, The Living New Deal, Department of Geography, U.C. Berkeley
Patricia Lofthouse, M.A.L.S.
If you have any questions regarding this project, contact RoseMaria Estévez at: EstevezRM@si.edu.