The Treasury Section of Fine Arts financed Polly Duncan to paint Cattle Round-Up in the Winnemucca Main Post Office as a part of its 1940 expansion plan. It is a model example of the regionally focused murals completed as a part of the New Deal’s Federal Art Project, and can now be found in the new Winnemucca Post Office on Hanson Street.
Polly Duncan’s Cattle Round-Up, added to the Winnemucca Main Post Office as a part of its 1940 renovation project, provides a model example of the New Deal’s Federal Art Project and its goals. Constructed in 1921 by James A. Wetmore, the Neo-Classical Winnemucca Main Post Office was the original home of Cattle Round-Up and was the first federally constructed post office in the northern Nevada town. Today, Cattle Round-Up can be viewed in the city’s new post office building located on Hanson Street.
Polly Duncan, a Denver-based artist, completed the mural in 1942 under the Federal Works Agency Section of Fine Arts. Duncan worked in the 1930s under the mentorship of established Coloradan muralist Frank Mechau, who highlighted the beauty of natural western landscapes in his works. Accompanied by a collective of other young artists, she lived in a cottage located in Redstone, Colorado. She assisted Mechau on his own artistic endeavors during the winter of 1936.
Only one of three WPA murals in Nevada, the oil-on-canvas work depicts several cowboys in the foreground as they herd Hereford cows into a shed. In the background, the rest of the herd can be seen against the backdrop of the Nevada landscape with its expansive fields, reflecting the area’s significant local history in cattle ranching.
Emigrants first brought the cattle into the area during the 1840s on the Applegate and California trails, where groups founded cattle ranches in the 1850s. The vastness of the Humboldt River Valley landscape, with plenty of space for grazing, made the area a desirable location to raise cattle, and by the 1870s, the industry was thriving with the help of the Central Pacific Railroad’s shipping capabilities. The Hereford cattle depicted in Duncan’s mural were a particularly popular choice of livestock in 1890s Winnemucca for their faster maturation, which in turn enabled greater profits.
The mural is a common example of the type of artwork produced under the Section of Fine Arts-Federal Works Agency and represented the federal government’s goal to provide aid to local communities through employing artists to depict optimistic American images. Indeed, the New Deal-era murals did not typically portray the Great Depression’s difficulties or create generalized images of a geographic American identity. Rather, they often represented local communities. As such, the mural reflects the goals of building American cultural identity in the Intermountain West and democratizing American art as everyday people were able to interact with the image on their regular visits to the post office.