As America struggled to climb out of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration explored ways to put people to work. One of these programs, The Treasury Section for Painting and Sculpture, employed artists to produce public art, including the mural Rural Free Delivery in the Goodland Post Office, 124 E. 11th Street. Federal building funds set aside one percent of the total cost per building for artworks.
Cubist painter Kenneth Miller Adams was born in Topeka Aug. 6, 1897. In 1933, he was teaching art at the University of New Mexico in Taos, N.M, when fellow New Mexican artist Gustave Baumann approached him about joining “The Section.” The government offered him $42.40 a week, more than he was being paid as an art professor. He left the university and went to work for the government. At first he was hired to paint “easel paintings” and was gratified to find that he was in one of the pay scale’s upper tiers. The government did not pay for materials and originally expected the artist to pay for them. Most artists could not afford their materials, so eventually sponsors were asked to pay.
Goodland receives a post office painting
The Section awarded Adams the Goodland commission based on designs submitted for another competition. He received the $985 contract June 15, 1936. Adams visited Goodland and asked Goodland Postmaster Ed Elder to send him pictures of the area for inspiration. Adams painted his mural with oil on canvas, then it was attached to the wall with white lead and varnish March 22, 1937. Adams had intended to attach it himself, but his wife’s illness prevented him from coming. In Class C and D post offices like Goodland, the murals were usually hung above the Postmaster’s office. “Rural Free Delivery” followed suit.
Rural Free Delivery: The farmers’ lifeline
The institution of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) had lessened farmers’ isolation. With a mail carrier coming to their homes, they could receive letters, news and even store-bought goods. RFD began in the late 1890s and the last routes had been established by 1926. The RFD carrier soon became a symbol of rural life.
Adams and The Section part ways
Adams painted only one more work for The Section, “Mountains and Yucca“, in the Deming, N.M., Post Office. Usually the community and the artist would discuss the artwork’s subject and composition, but Adams said he received no instruction from either Postmaster. “I think probably most of us [artists] would endeavor to develop our material, the material for our designs, out of a regional motivation, either landscape or the activities of the particular community. I know both of mine were,” he said.
He was offered one more commission from a part of the country “he knew no more of than he did of Florida”. He refused it for that reason and because the pay would not cover the cost. Adams requested further work from The Section, but received no more.
The mural is restored and joins the National Register of Historic Places
Many of The Section’s paintings have been lost or painted over, but Goodland’s is still in good shape. Marion Fred Iserman performed restoration work on the painting in July 1969. In its July 17, 1969, edition, The Sherman County Herald said Iserman would clean the mural and retouch it with paint and/or plaster as needed.
Partially due to “Rural Free Delivery”, Goodland Post Office was listed on National Register of Historic Places Oct. 17, 1989. Post Office Section Art, including Goodland’s, was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art finalists.
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