Los Angeles Post Office "Cultural Contributions of North, South and Central America"Used with the permission of the United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.
This fresco in the Post Office Terminal Annex lobby consists of eleven semi-circular, tempera on plaster “lunettes” by Boris Deutsch depicting “Cultural Contributions of North, South and Central America.” The murals were funded by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts and completed in 1944.
“The mural series entitled “The Cultural Contributions of North, South and Central America” in the Los Angeles Terminal Annex Post Office was painted in the early 1940s by Boris Deutsch. While the murals depict a number of indigenous North and South Americans, Mr. Deutsch himself was originally from Lithuania…
In 1939, he received a commission from the United States Treasury Department to paint murals in the Los Angeles Terminal Annex Post Office. The space included 11 panels, or “lunettes”, and Mr. Deutsch was required to choose his subject matter and sketch all 11 designs, as well as close-ups. He chose the subject of “Culture of the Americas”, and represented indigenous peoples from South America, Mexico and California, as well as scenes from science and industry. Mr. Deutsch also completed other post office murals through the same program, including the “Indian Bear Dance” mural in the post office in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Portraits are described as a quintessential subject of Mr. Deutsch’s work. He employed modernist concepts such as loose, expressionist strokes and flattened, almost cubist, qualities…
Despite the continued presence in the Los Angeles area of the Gabrieliño-Tongva people, the mural lunettes may not include them at all. In the lunette depicting Indians in “Alta California”, which is now the state of California, the artist chose to paint Father Junipero Serra, who spent very little time in the Los Angeles area, and was more influential in the San Diego and Monterey Bay areas after arriving from Baja California. San Diego was the home of the Kumeyaay people, and Monterey was the territory of the Rumsen Ohlone. In an interview with the artist recorded by the Archives of American Art in June 1964, he refers to Father Serra as “the father who first came into this country”. While he was responsible for planning the development of the missions, he did not visit the San Gabriel site until 1772, a year after it was established. The mission in the mural does not resemble the Mission San Gabriel. While the mural depicts an important chapter in the history of the missions of California, it depicts Indian people other than the Gabrieliño-Tongva, thereby omitting the indigenous inhabitants of the Los Angeles area from the mural altogether. Mr. Deutsch is quoted as saying that the two lunettes including South American pottery and a Quetzal bird headdress could be from “any part of that section of the country”, indicating a general reference to South America, rather than a specific Indian culture. In the other lunettes, he specifically references indigenous Peruvians and Mexicans. The lack of cultural specificity across all the Indian-related lunettes creates a general, rather than locally-specific, interpretation of the history of indigenous Americans which in turn permits the fading of their existence into the mist of ages past. The author does state in the Archives interview that he did some cultural and architectural research, noting the significance of llamas, masks, and the Quetzal bird headdress. In one of the sections representing Mexico, Mr. Deutsch included Mayan and Aztecan symbolism. He researched “ancient codices” and used those symbolic figures to spell out “1943”, the year he painted the mural section. Perhaps the most significant point of analysis in the mural series is the division between the Indian past, and the European-American present and future. Of the 11 lunettes in the series, the 6 depicting native cultures of South America, Mexico and California are clearly temporally situated in the past, while the following 5 paintings, depicting European Americans engaged in scientific, industrial pursuits, appear much more modern and futuristic. These include representations of Western pioneers, high-powered telescopes, telephone communications, a physics class, and the modern military. The project clearly draws a line between native cultures of the Americas as a thing of the past, while the academic, innovative and prosperous future is the sole domain of white Americans.” (https://postalmuseum.si.edu)
https://postalmuseum.si.edu/indiansatthepostoffice/mural33.html Photos by Jordan McAlister at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4232658460/in/photostream/
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