Post Office Relief – Cortland NY


The historic Cortland post office houses a wonderfully unique example of New Deal artwork: a painted wooden relief entitled “Valley of the Seven Hills” completed in 1943 by Ryah Ludins. The work, which was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts, can be seen in the post office lobby to this day.

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Location Info

88 Main St.
Cortland, NY 13045

Coordinates: 42.598312, -76.180693

One comment on “Post Office Relief – Cortland NY

  1. Robert Rightmire

    Ryah Ludins (1896-1957)
    A feminine young woman with a decidedly masculine line of work

    Ryah Ludins, born in Odessa Russia, arrived in the US in 1904. Her father, David Ludschinskis, shortened the family name to Ludins. As a child Ryah loved her father’s architectural instruments, she liked to draw and filling a space creatively inspired her. Large surfaces, like those in murals, appealed to her. According to her sister, Tima, at an early age painting a mural was something she wanted to attempt.

    In her teens, Ryah studied at both the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York City. After graduating from Columbia University in 1922, teaching art at first seemed satisfying. Then in 1925, during a trip to Europe, Ryah had the opportunity to view a wide range of murals. “Upon my return to the States I began making studies of phantom murals-murals I never expected to paint. While her print making and painting, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, gave her some satisfaction and recognition, larger work surfaces remained an attraction. After a conversation with Diego Rivera, where he “…crystallized my ambition by telling me that I had a ‘mural sense’,” she decided to go to Mexico, first as a tourist and then to work as an assistant to Pablo O’Higgins, who had been Rivera’s assistant. With O’Higgins she leaned the art of grinding colors and how to paint frescos. Ryah’s connection to O’Higgions led to her first commission: a small mural in the offices of El Nacional (the official newspaper of the Institutional Revolutionary Party). From that work she was introduced to Señor Gustavo Corona, at the time the Rector of the University of St. Nicholas of Hildalog, “I was commissioned by him to paint a wall in true fresco; he suggested the subject: ‘Modern Industry.’” This commission is really the turning point in her development as an independent woman artist. While painting Modern Industry in the State Museum, Morelia, Michaocan, she encountered a stubborn community that insisted that she wear a dress when working on the mural. Standing on scaffolding, many feet above the floor, in a skirt, was not acceptable to Ryah. She stopped painting the fresco. After many days of debate, she resumed painting wearing “trousers.” Later she would comment: “If I were a man, it would have been so much easier.”. To understand the work of the silver miners that she wanted to depict on Modern Industry, Ryah asked to visit the deep shafts of the local mines. She insisted that she had to view the men working. For a time access was refused, but Ryah persevered to become the first women in the mine’s history to go 1400 feet underground. The sense of independence exhibited by Ludins in the early stages of her career as a muralist is reflected in her desire to financially support herself as a working artist and teacher. Ryah did marry once, but only for a few months in 1934. She told her niece that: “she liked men, she just didn’t want to find one in her bed in the morning.” She remained single for the rest of her life. Edna Gorman wrote: “ It is a little difficult at times to reconcile this attractive, utterly feminine young woman with her decidedly masculine line of work.”

    Ryah returned to the United States in 1935 and began work as an artist with the WPA, the only employment that would allow her to live and work as an artist. Little is known of her time with the WPA/FAP except for a few telling details. Over the next five years her job description changed, in succession, from “artist” to “master artist” then reassigned as “artist,” followed by “terminated,” then appointed “project supervisor, “senior artist,” again “artist” and finally “terminated” by 1940. Two comments reflect on Ryah’s time with the WPA/FAP. She told her niece, twenty years later, there were “tensions” and she repeated her earlier statement about it being easier if she were a man. Her mural work from 1935 to 1943 for the WPA/FAP is impressive. Murals were painted for Bellevue Hospital in NYC, the New York City’s WPA building at the World’s Fair in 1939 and the US Post Offices in Nazareth, PA and Cortland, NY. Commission were also granted, without the murals being funded for installation, for the Intarsia Panel-Mural Project, NYC, a sports mural for Thomas Jefferson High School, NYC and the cafeteria for Social Security Building in Washington, D.C. Thus over an eight years Ryah designed for the WPA/FAP, seven murals with four of them being completed.

    Ryah final mural was completed in 1953, entitled Steel, it was for the J.B. Kendal Company, Washington, D.C. It reflected her continued fascination with architectural designs, industry and modernization. She died four years later after a long illness.

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