Post Office, Piggott
The Piggott Post Office is associated with the historic context Arkansas Post Offices with Section Art as a U.S. Postal Service structure containing a mural financed through the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section on Fine Arts. As such, it is eligible under Criterion A with statewide significance for its associations with the Section’ efforts to employ Depression-era artists and place art in post offices around the country.
Construction on the new Piggott Post Office was 73 percent complete as of November 1, 1937, leading the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture to seek permission to commission a mural for the northeast Arkansas building. According to a December 17, 1937, memo from the Section to the Director of Procurement, $57,400 had been obligated for the post office; as of December 13, $4,522.37 remained unexpended, and $700 of that was reserved for mural production. The memo was stamped approved on January 5, 1938.
Based on the merits of a design submitted for a post office in Ames, Iowa, Ed Rowan, superintendent of the Section of Painting and Sculpture invited Iowa artist Lowell Houser to submit designs for the Piggott Post Office on August 20, 1938. Houser, who had moved from Iowa to California, accepted the Piggott commission in a September 25 letter to Rowan in which the artist explained that he was also teaching at San Diego State College and designing sculptural panels for the Bankers Life Building in Des Moines. “However,” Houser wrote, “I should be able to work up the sketches for a mural ... and to paint it within the following six months.”
It was to take far more than six months. Correspondence between Rowan and Houser show delays in submitting the initial sketch, though the artist did conceive of a mural that would have portrayed the turn-of-the-century change of Piggott’s economy from a lumber to an agricultural base, titled “The Forests Give Way to the Fields.” It was nearly a year after the initial invitation before an actual contract was signed and approved. On June 13, 1940, House sent another letter to Rowan, explaining that family obligations had caused him forget the date of the contract and requesting that the document be nullified. “If this is not possible, then I will make every effort to complete the color sketch and complete the painting during this summer vacation,” Houser wrote. “I could do this with a three month extension of the time limit.” His patience apparently at an end after nearly two years of delays, Rowan replied on June 17 that the contract would be nullified and that another artist would be invited to prepare the Piggott mural. (Houser apparently did no further work for the Section. Who Was Who in American Art credits him only with the Ames, Iowa, mural and, mistakenly, with the Piggott mural.)
Rowan turned to another Iowan, Dan Rhodes, who in addition to Piggott painted post office murals for Glen Ellyn, Ill., Clayton, Mo., Marion, IA., Storm Lake, IA., and the Navy Building in Washington, D.C. Rhodes agreed on August 21, 1940, to submit a design, which he did on November 4. “As you will note, I have chose as subject matter the Air Mail. I feel the Air Mail is of unusual significance to the smaller and more isolated community, linking them as it does with the most distance centers,” the artist wrote to Rowan. “I have tried to convey the sense of stream- lined power which is behind the mail service.” Karal Ann Marling, in Wall- to-Wall America, found that Rhodes’s “image of flight had an almost purely symbolic significance for Piggott in any case. Rhodes’s aircraft bore a striking resemblance to the new DC-3, the first airliner to turn a profit on passenger service without dependence on federal mail contracts; the DC-3 rarely touched down in the northernmost corner of Arkansas.” However, she noted, “Streamlined power was justification enough for painting a futuristic phoenix arisen form the ashes of the Depression.”
In any event, Rowan found Rhodes’s subject matter “excellent,” though he had a few suggestions for improving the proposed mural’s balance. The official contract is dated November 18, 1941 and Rhodes received his first $150 payment on the $700 job on January 22, 1941. A second payment of $225 was authorized on February 6, the same day Rhodes received permission to install the mural in Piggott.
Rhodes experienced difficulty in sending Rowan the requisite 8 x 10 negative of the installed mural, explaining in a February 22, 1941 letter that “no photographer in the region of Piggott has equipment to take an 8 x 10 negative.” The artist instead submitted a smaller photograph. Piggott Postmaster Ralph McNiel wrote Rowan on March 11, 1941, that the mural was both satisfactory and installed, but complained that “the molding around the mural has not been painted; and the wall surface between the decoration and bulletin boards is somewhat soiled, the same having been done while the surface was being cleaned for the proper installation of the mural.” The mural was pictured in the March 11, 1941, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a clipping of which was enclosed in McNiel’s letter.
On March 25, 1941, Rhodes was paid the $325 balance due on his contract, ending the more than three-year effort to place a mural in the Piggott Post Office. The mural remains there today, in a building that retains virtually all of its original character.
The Piggott Post Office is associated with the historic context Arkansas Post Offices with Section Art as a U.S. Postal Service structure containing a mural financed through the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section on Fine Arts. As such, it is eligible under Criterion A with statewide significance for its associations with the Section’s efforts to employ Depression-era artists and place art in post offices around the country. U.S. Treasury Department’s Fine Arts Section materials, National Archives.
Marling, Karal Ann, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.