In the depths of the great depression during the 1930s, millions of Americans were out of work and looking for jobs to put food on the table. Artists were no exception. Prior to 1930, American artists were dependent on wealthy art collectors, institutes or the whims of the market. An appreciation of fine arts was considered “upper-class” even in a nation where “all men are created equal”.
Within 100 days of his inauguration in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave Congress plans for putting Americans back to work. Called the “New Deal”, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration were the most successful programs under the New Deal. The former LaFollette Post Office was built by the WPA and dedicated in 1939.
Often mistaken for WPA art, post office murals were actually managed by artists working for the Section of Fine Arts, Procurement Division, of the Treasury Department. Artist commissions were based on competition rather than need. One percent of post office construction funding was dedicated to Fine Arts. Post offices were selected to take art to the heartland of America since viewing was available there for everyone.
The Treasury Department awarded 1,124 mural contracts worth $1.5 million. Most commissions were valued between $500 and $2,000 based on cost of post office construction. Tennessee received 30 mural commissions, more than many other states. Executive order #7046 stated work would be non-discriminatory; however, only one African-American, one Indian/Native American and a few of the artist commissions were made to women. Eleven of the 30 commissions in Tennessee were granted to women. Twenty-five of the 30 Tennessee murals are believed to still be in existence. All murals were completed between 1938 and 1942. Even though LaFollette had a population of 2,637 in 1939, the Treasury Department approved a mural for the small town’s post office.
Dahlov Zorach Ipcar was born in Windsor, Vermont on November 12, 1917. She lived in Greenwich Village, went to school in New York City and spent one year at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. She had no other formal education or art training except from her distinguished parents. Her parents were William and Marguerite Zorach and were very well known in art circles. Dahlov began receiving national attention when she was 21. Her works have been included in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In her career she authored and illustrated over 30 children’s books, three young adult books and one adult novel. She was also an international artist. She died on February 10, 2017.
Dahlov began working on her mural design for LaFollette in August 1938. She and her husband, Adolph Ipcar, who used to tutor her in math, were married in 1936 and were living on Robinhood Farm,
Georgetown Island, Maine. They traveled in a Model A Ford Roadster to Campbell County to talk to the residents and get a feel for the tradition and culture of the area. They had their Dalmatian in the rumble seat and residents kept asking what kind of dog it was. Dahlov returned to Maine with four preliminary sketches; one historical scene from the 1800s; a Civil War battle and two from the shores of the lake. (Note: TVA built Norris Lake between 1933 to 1936). Dahlov decided on one of the lake scenes for the mural and called it, “On the Shores of The Lake”.
The mural is approximately 5’ by 12’. The mural depicts two fishermen preparing to clean their catch, while another man approaches led by a slender walker fox hound. A large oak tree provides shade and in the distance, mist arises from the clear water. The mural hung on the wall of the old post office from 1939 until 2005. It was not moved because it was thought to be affixed directly to the plaster wall. It had never been removed or restored as a result. There was some damage to one corner. Restoration started in 2005 and it was discovered the mural could easily be removed due to its starch-base backing. The mural was sent to Chicago to the Preservation and Recovery of Masterpieces of Art Conservation at a restoration cost of $20,000. At least ten times more than the artist received for creating the mural. In the meantime, a new post office had been approved for LaFollette and funded. The new post office was opened in 2007 and when the mural returned from Chicago, it was installed in the new post office.
The former post office, now owned by the City of LaFollette, is being used as an arts and cultural center by Postmark LaFollette, an IRS 501(c)(3), non-profit, to embrace the community talents and enjoyment of programs, plays and art teaching center.
Submitted by Gerry Myers- President, Campbell County Historical Society; Secretary/Board Member, East Tennessee Preservation Alliance;Archivist/Member, Campbell County Public Records Commission.
LaFollette Press, September 1, 1939
LaFollette Press, September 15, 1939
LaFollette Press, 1996
The Campbell Countian, Vol 24, Number 3, Oct/Nov/Dec 2013
Campbell County Historical Society, research files
Trulene Nash, VP, Publications, CCHS; interviews & correspondence with Dahlov
Gregg & Rae Mihal, visits with Dahlov in Maine, 2013
Google on Dahlov
Rotogram, May 6, 13, 2014
LaFollette Press, March 2, 2017