In Philadelphia, a Push to Return New Deal Murals to Public View

Pennsylvania is second only to New York in its collection of New Deal post office art, but access to some of the artworks is reserved for those in blue serge ensembles. The situation has sparked a debate over the fate of two New Deal murals painted by Social Realism-minded twin artists Raphael and Moses Soyer that once hung in a Philadelphia branch post office and were assumed to be lost—until they turned up on the walls of the regional corporate offices of the U.S. Postal Service in Philly. Commissioned in 1939, the two 15-foot-long murals “depicted iconic scenes of Philadelphia from both the Colonial period and the 20th century: Independence Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the skyline from the Delaware River, and the Ben Franklin Bridge,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. New Deal murals divided into panels and hung in office hallways? Cue the image of FDR rolling in his grave:

“I’d like to see them put it in a public venue, which was the intention of the program from the beginning,” said Curt Miner, curator of the New Deal post office art exhibit at Pennsylvania’s State Museum. “FDR, who brought art to America in the most public of places, would be turning in his grave knowing only bureaucrats could see it.”

The Postal Service is open to moving the murals, although no one seems to have a good idea where they should go. In the meantime, Pennsylvanians (or anyone) craving New Deal art can sate themselves with “A Common Canvas: Pennsylvania’s New Deal Post Office Murals,” the Miner-curated exhibition that runs through May 17 at the State Museum in Harrisburg.