Post office art lost
Published 11:39 pm Thursday, August 26, 2004
By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
Some time ago I learned that therre was supposed to be a mural painted on the wall of the Escambia County School Board Office. This is the same building that once was the Brewton Post Office.
Imagine my surprise to find that the newsletter for The Escambia County Historical Society last month had to do with the same subject. I knew a little bit about the murals but when I went on-line I found all sorts of things. It is interesting and worth telling you about.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, there were many agencies established by The New Deal to help with the nation's economy.
The Treasury Section of Fine Arts (Section) was a program that produced the large number of murals and sculpture found across America. It was established in 1934 as a companion to the construction of federal buildings. The two most common structures were decorations of post offices and courthouses. Not all buildings constructed received decorations by the Section but there were 24 works created in the State of Alabama; 23 in post offices and one in a courthouse. Several others were proposed but never completed.
The average New Deal post office was allotted $650-$750 to pay for a space that was five by 12 feet above the postmaster's door. Courthouses were allotted a sum of $3,000. In The 48 States Competition in 1939, there were more than 3,000 entries and each winning entry was placed in one post office of each state. Robert Gwathmey in Eutaw was the winner from Alabama, although his submission was for his home state of Virginia.
The murals were supposed to be of something that was important to the particular city in which it was located.
Today there are 23 of these works still in existence, but Brewton holds the distinction of having the only mural in Alabama that is missing. Atmore, Monroeville and Bay Minette from this area had murals that can still be seen. Atmore has a painting called "The Letter Box" painted by a Montgomery artist Anne Goldthwaite in 1938 who also painted one in Tuskegee. The one in Atmore depicted a group of rural children waiting for the mail delivery.
Bay Minette has an interesting mural called "Removal of the County Seat from Daphne to Bay Minette." It is a scene painted by Hilton Leech in 1939 depicting an actual event that happened on Oct. 1, 1901, when a group of citizens of Bay Minette went to Daphne in the dark of night and gathered all the records to take them to Bay Minette. The county seat had been at Daphne until 1901 when it was moved to Bay Minette. The citizens of Daphne did not want to give up the records, so they were "stolen." This is one mural that was moved from the original post office to the new location, the new post office. This sounds very much what happened here in Escambia County between Pollard and Brewton.
The Brewton entry was "Logging" by Germam-born John von Wicht . It was painted in 1939 and he chose the theme of the early lumber industry in the area around Brewton. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) The website says that it was met by many favorable comments by the postmaster and the citizens of Brewton
Now, as a person who believes that valuable sites and things are destroyed in the name of progress, I would be very interested to see the missing mural. If you know of a photograph of it, please let me know. They tell me at the Escambia County Superintendent's office that the only person there that might know what happened would be Harry Weaver. At this time I have a call in to Mr. Weaver and hope to give you an update soon.
For those of you who may be interested in reading about the art in post offices and federal buildings, I suggest you visit the website www.alabamamoments.state.al.us/sec49det.html.