A Closer Look at New Deal Muralist Wendell Jones

Wendell Jones, "Farmer Family" (Treasure Section, 1940)A fixture of the mid-century Woodstock arts scene, Wendell Jones painted four murals for the New Deal’s Section of Fine Arts. His works were admired by government officials and his peers alike, including Philip Guston.


From June to October 2014, the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum held the first major retrospective of Jones’s work since the 1950s. Rediscovering Wendell Jones, 1899-1956 showcased an artist conformable in a range of forms: His sunbaked Southwestern cityscapes, his cluttered and overcast Hudson Valley landscapes, abstract expressionist paintings from the 1950s. The exhibit also presented the four New Deal murals Jones was commissioned to paint in the Midwest and the South. The Living New Deal has previously marked Jones’s work on our map. But only recently did Peter Jones hear about us and reach out to let us know about this major exhibit of his father’s work. Peter Jones was generous enough to send us the accompanying catalogue. This slim volume beautifully captures the variety of Wendell Jones’s paintings, and features a foreword by Josephine Bloodgood, the Executive Director and Curator of the WAAM’s Permanent Collection, and an introduction by Peter Jones that draws together personal memories and extant scholarship. There is also a helpful chronology of the artist’s life, vivified through photographs from the family collection. The result is a sense of Wendell Jones’s work in the context of his own personal and creative development, as well as his devotion to New Deal civic-mindedness.


Indeed, Jones’s New Deal murals display a range of moods and circumstances. If Jones’s paintings for the Section of Fine Arts are unified by the theme of collective work, their subject matters traverse eras and moods. First Pulpit in Granville, painted for the Granville, Ohio, post office in 1938, is a lush, densely packed historical epic of community building through the religious revivals of a century earlier, its figures bathed in light. Indeed, Jones believed, according to art historian Karal Ann Marling, that depictions of local history “could stir up in local residents a feeling of pride in their present circumstances, because such events were a part of local consicousnes, in which the aspirations of forefathers and descendants met.” Farmer Family, painted for the Johnson City, Tennessee, post office in 1940, illustrates vigorous industrial and rural work among Johnson City’s inhabitants—train conductors, construction workers, dairy farmers, and lounging workers in overalls smoking, eating, debating. So much activity clustered together, with little room to breathe. One wonders, in this painting, if “family” is a word whose meaning is symbolic.


Jones’s work is currently housed in private collections, as well as the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. In order to purchase the catalogue to Rediscovering Wendell Jones, contact the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum.



Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the New Deal

An anti-government occupier strolls by his New Deal-era shelter.

An anti-government occupier strolls by his New Deal-era shelter.  Source
Photo Credit: Rob Kerr/Getty Images NARRATIVE CONTENT GROUP, 2016

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been much in the news lately.  It is the site of an armed standoff between a group of western ranchers and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The conservative militants and their supporters are angry at the government’s perceived mistreatment of two local ranchers at the hands of the federal government (Mother Nature Network has a good run-down of the situation). Ironically, for a movement staking its claim on individual property rights and limited government, the occupiers owe their current shelter in snowy Oregon and, it seems, their “media center” to the greatest federal program ever undertaken in the United States: the New Deal.

As several Living New Deal team members noticed right away, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a New Deal site that has been up on our map for some time.  In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt, backed by the Oregon Audubon Society, established the Malheur refuge on unclaimed government lands to serve “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds” who were being killed in droves by plume hunters working for the hat industry.  A generation later, under the administration of Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, Franklin, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) expanded the refuge, constructing dams, bridges, and roads, and erecting a number of handsome buildings that remain on the grounds.

The occupation of The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been approached from many angles: Aaron Bady’s analysis of the role of historical narration in the militia’s rhetoric and propaganda; debates about a “racial double standard” in the law’s treatment of the occupiers; and Charles Mudede’s meditations on class and the exploitation of labor, to name just a few.  But it’s worth noting another dimension of current events: The New Deal’s legacy is everywhere and its structures (as well as its lessons) are all-too-easily overlooked and forgotten.

Gabriel Milner is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

Udall Department of the Interior Building: Curry Murals – Washington DC

The Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior building contains one of the largest collections of New Deal art in Washington DC, by some of the finest American artists of the time. 

John Steuart Curry painted “The Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1889” (not 1894 as it says in the bronze plaque) and “The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences” in 1937-39. They were commissioned by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts and painted to honor the General Land Office and Grazing Service, precursors to today’s Bureau of Land Management, and hang on the 5th floor main corridor, north of the elevator lobby.

The Department of Interior Museum offers regular mural tours; check their website for information and registration. 

For more information on the Interior building, its art and the artists, see Look and Perrault 1986 (below – available online). Artworks begin on p. 110.



Post Office Mural – Crawford NE

“The lobby’s most prominent feature is a mural on the upper portion of the east wall. It was painted by G. Glenn Newell, an artist and dairy farmer from Duchess County, New York, and installed by post office workers in May 1940. The piece depicts a wagon train beginning to ford a stream. The lead wagon dominates the scene with other wagons visible in the background, along with local landmark Crow Butte…

The edifice’s mural, titled “The Crossing” and painted by G. Glenn Newell, was one of hundreds commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Newell received a notice from the section inviting him to submit designs for the Crawford Post Office in August 1939. Newell immediately accepted the commission, for which he would be paid $800. Although he did not visit Crawford before painting the mural, he received several photographs from the Crawford postmaster to aid him in accurately painting the setting.”

Post Office Bas Relief – Mifflinburg PA

A striking four-panel set of painted plaster bas reliefs resides in the lobby of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania’s historic post office building. The reliefs, collectively titled “Pioneers of the Community,” were funded by the federal Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts. Marguerite Bennett Kassler completed the work in 1941.

Post Office Mural – Morris MN

“Gager’s Trading Post on the Wadsworth Trail” is a Treasury Section of Fine Arts mural that was installed at the post office in Morris, Minnesota in 1943. The tempera-on-canvas mural was painted by Alfred Sessler.

Post Office Mural – Mart TX

The oil-on-canvas mural entitled “McLennan Looking for a Home” was painted by Jose Aceves in 1939. The work was funded by the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts and still hangs in the lobby of the Mart, Texas post office.