Post Office mural, Decatur, IL, Edward Millman"Early Pioneers", 1938, fresco, 1 of 2 panels
The Decatur post office contains several Treasury Section of Fine Arts murals by Edward Millman, Mitchell Siporin and Edgar Britton. The murals were completed in 1938. Three different halls in the post office contain murals by each artist respectively.
Edward Millman Murals:
One hall contains a series of three murals, consisting of two panels each, by Edward Millman. The murals are titled “Early Pioneers,” Social Consciousness,” and “Growth of Democracy in Illinois.”
The murals show early pioneers and the development of social consciousness, but do so by showing the suffering of soldiers, Indians, blacks, and the common man. A judge or politician dressed well and holding a paper titled “Liberty Lines” stands over a slave who is in distress. In the opposite panel on the same wall, a man is writing on paper propped on a piece of wood next to a boy who holds a sickle (possibly a communist reference).
Edward Millman studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and became interested in murals and the fresco technique. He studied under Diego Rivera from 1934-1935 and returned to head the Mural Projects for the WPA Federal Arts Program. He joined the Naval Reserve in 1943 and was attached to the staff of Douglas MacArthur. He taught at the university of Indiana, Cornell University, the University of Buffalo, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Park and Markowitz emphasize that Millman viewed history as a series of conflicts rather than achievements, and in which minorities are exploited.
Mitchell Siporin Murals:
The central hall of the large post office building contains 3 panels depicting “The Fusion of Agriculture and Industry.”
The 3 panels by Mitchell Siporin are in the central of the large post office building
between the 2 halls that house works by Edward Millman and Edgar Britton. Siporin’s works lay a heavy emphasis on people and the work of the people who are hardworking grim-faced agriculture and industrial workers. He gives a nod to Abraham Lincoln carrying a book and an axe in the earliest panel with the split rail fence and the farm family.
Mitchell Siporin was born in New York City and contributed work to a socialist journal and along with Edward Millman collaborated on this post office mural, but also the St. Louis post office mural which was the largest commission of the program. He founded the Fine Art Dept at Brandeis University.
Edgar Britton Murals:
The third hall contains a series of three two-panel murals by Edgar Britton, entitled “Frank Lloyd Wright and Carl Sandburg”, ”John Deere and Francis Parker”, and “Development of Illinois.”
The color on these murals is brilliant through-out. The long panels show the development of Illinois one showing the hardship of early families and a farmer, the other showing coal mining, the steel industry, other industrial workers and the building of the railroad. The work is brutal and all of the workers are exerting heavy effort. The families are solemn. His portraits of famous men from Illinois are effective.
Edgar Britton was born in Kearney, Nebraska and studied under Grant Wood at the University of Iowa from 1920-1924. He is primarily known for his murals done as parts of the Federal Arts Project. Having tuberculosis, he was advised to go to a drier climate and moved to Colorado where he stayed the rest of his life.
Park and Markowitz, Democratic Vistas, Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, 1984. https://www.wpamurals.com/illinois.html https://www.postofficefreak.com/2012/03/31/decatur-il-post-office/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/7066048969/in/photostream/
Project originally submitted by Charles Swaney on December 17, 2012.