The Suitcase Lady


February 1, 2012, 1:06 am

My mother always got her facts straight. She was a reference librarian until the age of 72 and could track down answers to her patrons’ most challenging questions. I never second guessed my mother.

Going to the West Allis Post Office with my mom when I was a child was one of my favorite activities. I loved art, and our post office had two wall size murals of bucolic Wisconsin scenes replete with wildflowers. Sixty some years later, I still visit these murals when I am in my old neighborhood.

Mother told me that the murals were painted by the legendary Milwaukee artist, Ruth Grotenrath, as part of the New Deal WPA Arts Project. So it was with much eagerness that I recently brought home a splendid new book from the library entitled, In Celebration, The Life and Art of Ruth Grotenrath by Susan J. Montgomery. Surely, I would learn more about my beloved murals.

The book describes Ruth’s creation of three post office murals done under the WPA-sponsered Treasury Relief Art Project. The post offices were located in Hudson, Wisconsin, Wayzata, Minnesota and Hart, Michigan.

I literally flew to my computer to Google “West Allis Post Office murals”. And there they were: Wisconsin Wildflowers-Spring and Wisconsin Wildflowers-Autumn painted by Frances Foy, a Chicago artist, in 1943 as part of the New Deal.

The murals continue to delight me like the images that permanently stick in our minds from a beloved childhood picture book. And I did get a wonderful bonus from my mother’s mistake: during my search, I chanced upon a listing from the Sun Prairie Historical Society of all the extant post office murals in Wisconsin. Loving New Deal Art, I will now have many pleasurable road trips in the future.

 Click here for the complete list of Wisconsin Post Office murals.

4 Comments for this entry

  • Ann Piehl

    Thanks, Mary! I love this! I may get started on a new quest.

  • evie

    Mary–There are wpa murals in Kewaunee, WI.
    Native peoples, fur trappers, and other pioneer-
    type images. By the way, the PO in Stoughton is
    almost identical to Kewaunee’s. Don’t remember if
    they have murals or not. My brother has a lovely
    snapshot of my mom and dad (1938???) on the day of
    the p. o. dedication . . . thanks for the memory.

  • Mary

    Evie! We definitely will stop in Kewaunee on our next trip to Door County. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our current age would appreciate the contribution of artists?

  • Mary

    Ann! There are so few things in life that are free now, but checking out these splendid murals would be one. I get to see Schomer Lichtner’s murals every time I go to the Sheboygan Post Office. Since I love snail mail, I spend lots of time at post offices!