"Tobacco Picking in the Late Colonial Era"
The old Main Post Office in Arlington VA, opened in 1937, contains seven New Deal murals by Auriel Bessemer in its lobby. The mural series is titled, “Agricultural and Industrial Scenes – Sketches of Virginia.” They were commissioned by the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts, painted in 1939 and installed in 1940.
Auriel Bessemer was a local artist and the panels show familiar scenes of Virginia life in the past. The seven panels depict Indians on Analostan Island, Captain John Smith and the Indians, tobacco picking at the Lee mansion, Robert E. Lee receiving his Confederate commission in Richmond, a picnic at Great Falls, polo players at Fort Myers and a 1930s-era harvest at an apple orchard.
During the recent renovation of the old main post office, the murals were conserved and exhibited at Arlington’s Central Library. After the building reopened in 2007, the murals were returned to their permanent home.
As can be seen in the titles of the murals and the photographs, Bessemer’s murals represent a conventional view of Virginia history that portrays native peoples, African slavery and Confederate General Lee in an uncritical manner. Understandably, they are controversial today for presenting an elite White view of the state’s past. Nevertheless, they are historic artworks and witness to past ideologies, as well as past artistic styles.
(A discussion of how to deal with controversial artworks can be found on the Living New Deal website)
Originally posted in the New Deal Art Registry: https://www.newdealartregistry.org/
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