This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Post Office Mural

Have you ever noticed the painting on the wall in the Post Office and wondered why it is there? It was painted in 1939 by John E. Costigan and is titled "Receiving the Mail on the Farm." There were a lot of these paintings done in the late 1930s and early 1940s; many towns in Indiana have an example. Here is a link to one in Fowler, Attica, and Crown Point.
These are sometimes referred to as WPA projects (The Jasper County Interim Report makes this mistake), but they were funded by a different program, one in the Treasury Department:
Often mistaken for WPA art, post office murals were actually executed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts. Commonly known as "the Section," it was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department.
Here are some more information and perhaps some better pictures of the mural. It seems that it has had some restoration work done; the company that did it has done a great many of these New Deal Post Office restorations.

I looked for more information about Costigan and did not find a lot. He seems to be a pretty minor artist, and his art, mostly prints, sells at auctions for hundreds of dollars, not thousands.

Next time you are at the post office, take a little time and appreciate the interior. It seems little changed from what it was like when it was first built. It is very 1940s--a living museum in a way, in an age that no longer relies on it to deliver messages.
If you visit old post offices in other cities, be on the lookout for similar art work.

Update: According to the numbers on the side, this is post 100 for Rensselaer Adventures.


Lori Garcia said...

Very interesting! Thank you for that information - I never realized I worked in such a historical building! :-) I'll have to pay more attention to it tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

The last restoration was in 1965, and the Post Master said people were here last Friday to look at the mural for upcoming restoration. There are a couple of worrisome spots, but general it looks good. The restoration may cost from $10,000 to $20,000 to complete. The local preservationists and Prairie Arts Council are taking an interest in this preservation. The Jasper County Historical Society is bringing a state exhibit to its headquarters in February for public viewing.

Anonymous said...

For an excellent book on Indiana post office murals, see A Simple and Vital Design: The Story of the Indiana Post Office Murals by John C. Carlisle with photographs by Darryl Jones (Indiana Historical Society, 1995) 37 murals were commissioned, and 36 remain. In addition to the murals in Fowler, Attica, and Crown Point. other murals close to Rensselaer are in Crawfordsville, Hobart, Lafayette, Monticello. The first of the Indiana murals was installed in the Lafayette post office (230 N. 4th St,) by July, 1936, and the last was in Monticello (125 W Broadway St and was installed by August, 1941. Most of the murals in Indiana and elsewhere were installed in buildings built to the same design, so viewers will find these extent murals to the right upon entering the lobby, and they are located just above the post master’s door.

The author, the late John C. Carlisle, was a professor of English at Purdue University Calumet. Darryl Jones is an Indiana photographer probably best known for his photos in two books, Indiana and Indianapolis.

Anonymous said...

The last estimate for a restoration of this Costigan mural in the Rensselaer Post Office is $26,000. Good information given here for this local treasure created by a nationally known artist. It may be the only post office mural he painted that is still saved in the state of Indiana.

Ken Murray said...

Elmer Kaufman local resident, deceased, stop by the post office one day several years ago and we were discussing the painting. He told me in 1939 he was painting the walls in the lobby when John E Costigan arrived with his painting. John had traveled to Rensselaer by train, he had walked from the train station to the post office in the rain carrying the painting under his rain coat. Mr. Kaufman said John asked if he could use his ladder, he provided two ladders and assisted John with mounting the painting. Ken Murray USPS Rensselaer retired