WPA

 

Louise Emerson Ronnebeck entered 16 competitions for mural commissions including the Department of Justice Building, Washington, DC (1936, 1941); Fort Scott, Kansas (1937); Phoenix, Arizona (1937); Worland, Wyoming Post Office (1938); El Paso Texas (1938); Dallas, Texas (1940), Grand Junction Post Office and Littleton, Colorado Post Office (1940), St. Louis (1939, 1942); Social Security Building, Washington, D.C, (1940 and 1942), Amarillo, Texas (1941), South Denver Post Office (1942); and Los Angeles Terminal Annex Post Office (1944).

She won two commissions for post office murals, both funded by the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture. The first, in 1938, The Fertile Land Remembers, oil on canvas, for the Worland, Wyoming Post Office. The second, in 1940, Harvest, oil on canvas, for the Grand Junction Post Office, in Colorado.

The Harvest mural had a life of mystery. By 1973, the mural was dirty and dull. It was shipped to Washington DC for restoration and subsequently forgotten. Until 1991, its whereabouts were unknown. The building manager of the Aspinall Federal Building in Grand Junction had come across frequent references to the mural, but could not locate it. Through perseverance and dogged detective work, he finally located it in New York, had it restored and returned it to Grand Junction. In January 1992, Ronnebeck’s son and daughter, who had originally posed for the mural over 50 years earlier, unveiled it in a ceremony in the Grand Junction Aspinall Federal Building, where it remains today.

Regarding the Wyoming mural, The Fertile Land Remembers, there was some apprehension over the choice of a Colorado artist to execute the mural. Edward Rowan, head of the Section for Fine Arts wrote in a memo to the Director of Procurement in 1938, “The artists of Wyoming had an equal chance with those in Colorado to compete in the regional competition. The artists of Wyoming according to all records are very poor”.

For more information about Louise Emerson Ronnebeck’s WPA work, see “Louise Emerson Ronnebeck: A New Deal Artist of the American West” by Dr. Betsy Fahlman in the Woman’s Art Journal, Fall 2001/Winter 2002, Volume 22, Number 2.