Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Post Office Murals: Local, International Storytelling

Dardanelle Post Office mural; Meredith Martin-Moats

From an art historian’s perspective, [Dr. Gayle] Seymour explains, the man is a reference to “Atlas supporting the globe.”  The artist’s intent, Seymour argues, “is to show [that] the African American sharecropper carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.” 

As a perfect epilogue to the series of rural post offices discussions circulating on NPR, The Daily Yonder, and on this site, we can turn to Meredith Martin-Moats and her excellent Boiled Down Juice blog.

Reprinting a piece from her Seed and the Story column in her local Dardanelle (AR) Post-Dispatch, Mrs. Martin-Moats adds another facet to question of whether or not to leave these structures behind, by considering their architectural, art-historical, and even cultural legacies contained in--and painted upon--their walls. Here's how she begins this reflection:
As a young girl, my mother would frequently take me with her to drop off mail at our 1930s era post office in Dardanelle.  She’d always point out the New Deal mural hanging above the post master’s door.  A three-panel painting depicting the artist’s rendition of industry in the river valley, the two side panels feature men spinning cotton and loading boxes on boats to send down river.  In the larger, center panel are white and black men working in the cotton fields.  “See those people picking cotton,” my mother would say.  “Your grandparents used to pick cotton in Cardon Bottoms.”   My mother loved that mural, and fostered in me a deep curiosity about the history of family and community which fuels my work today.
Mrs. Martin-Moats continues from there to share the work of Dr. Gayle Seymour, art historian at the University of Central Arkansas and editor of a site entirely devoted to telling story of the Arkansas Post Office murals. Dardanelle houses one of the 1,400 post office murals commissioned by the Federal Art Project, and the story of this particular artist, Ludwig Mactarian, illuminates a far broader international story of repression and freedom. 

His story, and his unique interpretation in this mural, is captivating and unforgettable--and Mrs. Martin-Moats conveys this history with eloquence. Instead of paraphrasing it here, I encourage folks to give the full story a read...and then search out these post office murals in your own region of the country. 

Related Articles:
Hazel Dickens and The Boiled Down Juice