Detail of Kent, "Mail Service in the Tropics", Clinton Building - Washington DC
The Clinton Federal Building (north) was originally the US Post Office Department headquarters, completed under the New Deal in 1934. It contains a wealth of New Deal artworks commissioned and paid for by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts – 25 murals and 22 sculptural elements (12 bas-reliefs, 2 statues, 8 wood medallions) – featuring postal themes.
Rockwell Kent painted two large (7′ x 13.5′) murals for the Post Office building: “Mail Service in the Tropics” and “Mail Service in the Arctic” (1937). At the time, Alaska and Puerto Rico represented the northernmost and southernmost territories serviced by the U.S. Post Office Department.
Kent included as inscription in the Kuskokwim dialect of a fictional message from Alaska to Puerto Rico, which reads: “To the people of Puerto Rico, our friends! Go ahead, let us change chiefs. That alone can make us equal and free.” US officials in both Alaska and Puerto Rico objected to such a rebellious message. In addition, the Puerto Rico mural was controversial because of Kent’s depiction of Puerto Ricans as dark-skinned – which he did to indicate his solidarity with the poor of the island after the Ponce massacre of peaceful demonstrators for Puerto Rican independence.
The Kent murals hang on the 2d floor of the south wing of the Clinton Building.
The building is presently occupied by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is not freely open to the public. To arrange for a tour of the New Deal murals, email [email protected].
Project originally submitted by New Deal Art Registry on July 11, 2014.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
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