New Deal Post Office Mural

John E. Costigan’s “Receiving the Mail on the Farm” was installed in the Stuart, Virginia Post Office in 1942. This mural is the third of three very similar post office murals completed by Costigan and commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of the U.S. Department of the Treasury as part of the New Deal public works. The other two were installed in Rensselaer, Indiana in 1939 (with the mural having the same title) and in Girard, Ohio in 1938 which has since been inadvertently destroyed in 1962 and was titled Workers of the Soil. All three post office murals depict a similar scene of a farming family pausing their work to read the mail they had received.

The Stuart and Rensselaer murals portray a father reading to his wife and children what could be an invoice for the bags of seed pictured while draft horses wait patiently for the work to continue. In both paintings the mother is holding a small child. There is an obvious contrast between the Stuart and Rensselaer murals. The Stuart mural is brightly colored and draws your eyes right to the feminine mother. Rensselaer’s mural is quite the opposite. Costigan uses very dark colors and draws your eyes to the masculine father. It is said that Costigan used his family as muses for the figures in his art and often likened the female figures to his wife, Ida.

The subject of many of Costigan’s works have been centered on landscapes and family, two things Stuart and Patrick County have a great abundance of, making this community a fitting location for the mural.