Post office murals on display at Baum

There?s no doubt, life was difficult in America during the Great Depression. As the economy collapsed and the Dust Bowl brewed, the ?American Dream? seemed to vanish.

In an effort to reach out to Americans in their time of despair, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the New Deal, which extended federal programs and support to American business, agriculture, labor and the arts.

As a part of the New Deal, federal buildings, such as post offices, sprung up across the nation. The buildings were constructed under the U.S. Department of Treasury. The Treasury Department?s Section of Fine Arts was tasked with commissioning artists to decorate the postal facilities with murals that were not just nice works of art, but murals that were designed to send a positive message.

The president?s message to Americans was to remember our roots and work hard so the country could pull through the Depression.

Two of the murals that helped spread that message in Arkansas are on display at the university?s Baum Gallery.

The Morrilton mural, is a 12-foot-by-five-foot oil frame that was created in 1939. The art, titled ?Men at Rest,? depicts three men taking a break from pitching hay.

The other mural came from the Benton/Bauxite area in Saline County. It is a 12-foot-by-six-foot oil frame that was completed in 1942. The Benton mural is titled ?Bauxite Mining,? and depicts several men working in an area bauxite mine, which was one of the most profitable in the United States for nearly a century.

John Gill, author of ?Post Masters: Arkansas Post Office Art in the New Deal,? called the murals ?a symbol of hard work. That?s is what America is all about,? he said during a gallery lecture.

As visitors tipped their heads toward the ceiling, Gill explained that the murals are displayed the same way they appeared at the post offices. In fact, tape on the gallery?s floor outlines the walls of a historical Arkansas post office.

Barbara Satterfield, director of Baum Gallery, worked with the United States Postal Service, the City of Morrilton and Saline County officials to bring the murals to the university for six weeks.

?We wanted our students to see examples of historical public art and to bring in some murals. Murals have a lot of different characteristics than other art in that their content is different, the size is different, and the way the subject matter is depicted is different,? she said.

Satterfield said the decision to bring in the post office murals was made because they are significant works of public art that can create good discussions about not only public art, but also Arkansas history, the Depression-era and the Works Progress Administration, a federal program that hired thousands of out-of-work artists to create public art.

The murals are on display in Baum Gallery until Feb. 26.

-Jennifer Boyett