Where's the Art?

The Post Office Murals

One of the first projects undertaken by the Section of Fine Arts was to decorate this building, constructed in 1932–34 as the U.S. Post Office Department headquarters, with murals representing "romantic subject matter in the history of the post."

The Section of Fine Arts

In 1933, as the United States suffered under the weight of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted a series of domestic programs aimed at providing relief for unemployed citizens and aiding recovery of the economy. Among these initiatives were four federal programs intended to support American artists, expose everyday citizens to art, and provide high quality artwork for federal buildings. The Department of the Treasury's Section of Fine Arts awarded commissions through open and merit-based competitions with a goal of creating a unified, national art that represented the diverse and changing nation.

Culture & Controversy

The U.S. Post Office headquarters murals embody many admirable qualities of American art and culture in the 1930s: a range of visual styles, inventive approaches to subject matter, commitment to bringing creativity and artistic beauty to public spaces, and devotion to the development of American art as a part of national identity. At the same time, engrained cultural attitudes of the 1930s are inevitably present, including stereotypes about women, Native Americans, African Americans, and rural Americans. From Ward Lockwood and Karl Free's depictions of Native Americans and African Americans as subservient to white colonists, to William Palmer and Frank Mechau's emphasis on the aggression of Native Americans and the passive victimhood of women, to Doris Lee's romanticized views of farm life during the Depression, the murals perpetuate outmoded views of their era. Today, the presence of the murals in this building offers a rare opportunity to experience a full cycle of New Deal artwork in its original context, and serves as a valuable reminder of how American society has changed over time.

To arrange for a tour of the Post Office Murals, please email arttours@gsa.gov.

GSA Fine Art Collection

The GSA Fine Arts Program manages the collection of fine art found throughout executive branch federal buildings in order to ensure its safety, accessibility, preservation, and appropriate use in order to enhance and promote high-quality work environments for federal agencies and the public they serve. The Fine Arts Collection is one of our nation's oldest and largest public art collections. It consists of permanently installed and moveable mural paintings, sculptures, architectural or environmental works of art, and works on paper dating from 1850 to the present. These civic works of art are in federal buildings and courthouses across the United States. In addition, more than 20,000 small moveable New Deal works of art are on long-term loan to museums and other nonprofit institutions. Maintained by GSA as a part of our national and cultural heritage, the Fine Arts Collection serves as a reminder of the important tradition of individual creative expression.

Last Reviewed 2016-06-30