More than 1,600 murals were installed on the walls of post offices across the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, but today, many of these New Deal-era post office murals have vanished.
The story behind these public works of art, particularly the 29 that were installed in Kansas, and how these murals can help people understand the state during that time will be discussed during the October edition of the Smoky Hill Museum’s First Thursday Presentation.
“A New Deal for Public Art in the Free State” will be presented by Kara Heitz, a historian and educator at the Kansas City Art Institute, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in person at the Smoky Hill Museum, 211 W. Iron Ave., and online via Zoom and Facebook.
Smoky Hill Museum presentation coincides with Boom! Salina art festival
Nona Miller, the education coordinator for the museum, said bringing Heitz to Salina for this presentation was made possible because of Humanities Kansas and its Speakers Bureau program.
“They have an excellent source of speakers and when I saw her topic I stopped immediately (to book it),” Miller said.
The immediacy for Miller came because of the timing of another event happening in Salina, the Boom! Street Art and Mural Festival, which takes place from Oct. 5 to 7 throughout downtown.
“I thought … (would be) a wonderful addition to complement Boom! Salina, to talk about art as far back as the 1930s,” Miller said. “Back then, public art was also something that was very important to people and it helped communities.”
Miller said Heitz will discuss how these murals came about, what they can tell people about Kansas during the Great Depression and how they continue to speak to people today.
New Deal post office murals mostly gone now
According to Miller, the museum is a great building to have this presentation because it is the location of a post office that was supposed to have at least one of these murals on site.
Unfortunately, like many other New Deal post office artwork, any piece that may have been on the walls is no longer there.
“I think it’s important for public buildings to acknowledge the art that almost made it,” Miller said.
In addition to looking at the how and why behind the creation of these murals, Heitz will also discuss the question of where these pieces might be now.
For more information about this and other First Thursday Presentations at the Smoky Hill Museum, or to register for a Zoom link to watch the presentation online, visit the museum’s website, www.smokyhillmuseum.org.