New Deal Murals in the Intermountain West

The 1930s saw an enormous economic downturn in the United States with the Great Depression. Unemployment numbers ran high and artists were among the many who found difficulty seeking employment. To help remedy this, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration created the New Deal, including the Public Works of Art projects that initiated a nine-year legacy of new iterations like the Works Progress Administration and its Federal Art Project with the same purpose: to employ artists and craft an American art culture that included local communities. the Project further included greater opportunities for artists of color and women to display their talents. Among the various initiatives was the funding of murals that continue to adorn federal buildings today.

New Deal Murals in the Intermountain West features just a select few of the murals spread across the country’s Intermountain West region in the nine years from 1934 to 1943. Each of the five chosen works represents the Regionalist depictions that deviated from the nineteenth century’s focus on mythical artistic portrayals. Rather, they often displayed realistic and optimistic representations of local life and industry, ranging from Salt Lake City’s Capitol Rotunda art to a Winnemucca, Nevada, post office’s depiction of cattle ranching. The works reflect the goals of the projects to foster a Western American identity in art and instill hope for a thriving future during the Great Depression.

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.
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Jenne Magafan painted A Typical Western Town from 1939-1941 under the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, a New Deal project that aimed to employ artists and craft an American arts culture. Magafan installed the painting in the Helper, Utah, Main Post Office, where visitors can still see it today.  
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