Tidbits of Shelby County History
Center Post Office Mural

I am going to share with everyone today an article in a book titled “The Texas Post Office Murals” by Philip Parisi. This book was gracefully donated to the museum by Glynda and Jim Oliver. 

The book is a history of the 106 artworks in sixty-nine post offices and federal buildings across the state of Texas.  In an attempt to reverse the county’s depression-related economic and social woes, President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration initiated numerous public work and relief projects under an array of individual programs.

President Roosevelt was encouraged by his friend artist George Biddle to employ artists for weekly wages to assist them economically and, secondarily, to beautify the walls of public buildings with positive images of American life and history. The ideal did fit Roosevelt’s New Deal objectives in bringing powerful, visual messages of hope to the people. The mural was intended to boost American’s self-confidence and inspire citizens to rebuild their lives and, ultimately, the country’s economy.

In 1933, an ambitious public building program made available nearly $145 million in public funds for the construction of 233 federal buildings, hospitals, courthouses, executive buildings, schools, libraries, post offices and other public structures around the country.  Under PWAP one percent of the building cost normally reserved for structure decoration was to be used to pay artists to create murals for designated structures.  One than $1 million from the Civil Works Administration budget was initially allocated for artworks. By June, 1934 when PWAP ended, about 15, 660 works of art, including 700 murals by some 3,750 artists were displayed nationwide. The program was such a success it was renamed the Section of Fine Arts and continued as such from 1938-1943.

The images showed people at work and featured industries specific to the region, often coupled with symbols of progress such as machinery and modern transportation.  Mural depicted cowboys and stampedes, folk heroes from Sam Bass to Davy Crockett and revered Indian chief Quanah Parker, and community symbols such as Eastland’s lizard mascot, Ol’Rip. These murals not only gave work to artists but also brought beauty and optimism to a people worn down by hardship and discouragement.  These murals sparkled with scenes of Texas history, folklore, heroes, common people, wildlife, and landscapes. Center was one of the lucky cities whose post office received a mural.

Information on the mural at the Center Post Office is as follows:

The title of the mural is “Logging Scene” painted by Edward Chavez. It is a 4 ft X 11 ft 11 in oil on canvas painted in 1941. Edward chose a subject suitable for Center, a community located in the heart of East Texas Piney Woods region. At the time of the mural, hauling logs by ox-wagon was being replaced by modern trucks, and in his mural Chavez wanted to invoke the historically important values associated with manual labor. According to the artist, part of the richness associated with earlier methods – that is, the human exchange among workers – was less likely to be encouraged in an industry that had become mechanized.

The mural portrays a quaint view of early logging in an East Texas community. Against a background of pine forest that has been clear-cut, the mural depicts a group of loggers beside a halted, oxen-driven wagon bearing two huge logs. The lumbermen are painted socializing with fellow workers who sit to rest on top of their cargo. A vulture glides above a few scrawny pine tree left standing against gray sky. Two of the mural’s side panels depict the manual tools used in logging.

Note:   One will see that the lower part of the mural is notched out. This was done so the mural would fit over the door of the post office. The mural wasn’t painted to fit on a solid wall. Be sure to visit the Center Post office to view this fascinating mural of early logging in Shelby County.