The Haleyville Post Office Mural
By: Joann Holdbrooks
When I was a small child I used to love to go to the Post Office with My Father. He usually went every day to get the mail from our box. But my reasons for going to the Post Office were not to pick up the mail, but just to get another look at the large Mural that was painted on the wall just above the Post Masters door. I didn't know why it was there. I knew that I love to look at the lonely man plowing alone in field surrounded by the trees of the forest. Beside him stood an old dog and in the foreground was another man in a uniform. It wasn't colorful but painted in the muted colors of the earth and the forest. The brightest part of the picture was the white shirt that the man plowing the horse wore. I did not know the significance of the painting . I just love to look at it.
Many years have passed and the Mural is now gone. The building that housed the Haleyville Post Office is now filled with books of the town's library. What happened to the Mural? Was this lovely work of art destroyed or was it painted over when the building was reworked for the Library? No one in Haleyville seems to know.
This was brought to my attention by my sister Jeanette Albright , whose husband Larry is now Mayor of Haleyville. I visited with Librarian Carla Waldrop and she too voiced her interested in the painting. Where was I to go to find the information that I needed? Of course, the Internet. After surfing the Internet for a little while I found just what I was looking for. The Mural was part of a New Deal Program that President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted to provide a boost to the economy in the 1930s and 1940s. The one in Haleyville was just one among many that was commissioned to be painted in Post Offices and Federal buildings all over Alabama and throughout the United States. I emailed the Alabama Department of Archives and History to find out if they knew what had happened to the Haleyville Painting. So far as I know it is the only one that is not accounted for. Most of them remain in the buildings that originally housed them. No one at the Archives in Montgomery could answer my question, but I did find in an article from the Archives in Montgomery, the theme of the painting and the name of the artist that painted it, as well as the date it was painted.
My next step was to the Northwest Alabamian. With the date that it was painted in mind I went to the September 26, 1940 issue of the Old Advertiser Journal. Sure enough right there before me was the article written by Artist Thomas Holbrooke (no relation) of Gainesville, Florida. The article is listed below telling just how the title of "Re-Forestation" was given to the Mural and the Medium of Egg Tempera that was used to paint the Mural.
Thursday September 26, 1940 The Haleyville Advertiser
AT Post Office
Painter Writes Story
Connected with View;
A mural depicting "Re-Forestation" was recently completed at the Haleyville Post Office. The mural was painted above the door of the postmaster's office and has attracted considerable attention:
The mural was painted with three-dozed Haleyville brown eggs. The yolks only were used. This medium was mixed with pure color and painted on a gesso surface that was brushed onto the wall. The green surface is a mixture of whiting and gelatin. This way of painting is called egg tempera painting and has been known to last five hundred years or more.
Following is the story of the mural as written by the painter, Hollis Holbrooke of Gainesville, Florida;
"The story connected with the mural on "Re-Forestation" that is located in the Haleyville post office began with a visit to Haleyville in the spring of 1940. At that time it was very cold and the country side was laid bare to the visitor's eyes.
"Through the kindness of the Postmaster W. E. P. Lakeman and the local forest ranger, Mr. Thomas Wilson, the painter was taken over the country to see what the landscape was like. Many subjects presented themselves, among them included scenes from the National Forest and soil Conservation and Re-forestation. After a great deal of consideration and a long talk with both of these men the painter decided on two ideas and gave the job of deciding the decoration to the section of fine arts in Washington.
"The decoration depicting "Re-Forestation" was decided upon and was immediately worked up through the stage of life and studies and cartoon which is somewhat like a map of the work to be carried out. The artist visited CCC Camps where studies of the boys were made, these and other studies which included contour plowing, rock formations, erosion, trees and other like subjects. Many photos were taken which proved helpful in studying the landscape about Haleyville.
"This decoration depicts the two ways of caring for the land. One might be called the old way and the other the new way. At one time men would cut off the timber, burn off the top soil by burning off the brush, pull up the stumps and plow the land. Most anyone knows now that such a method soon destroys the earth, therefore the other way has been suggested. That way is shown by contour plowing and terracing and planting trees will soon restore goodness to the soil. Probably slash pine one of the fastest growing trees has been used for this purpose more than any other. The CCC boys have been active in this work by filling in eroded places with brush and planting trees over the hills that abound Winston County.
"To do a first rate job on a mural an artist must know his subject and get first hand information from the community. This is always an expensive way of doing work. Not only were photos taken of Winston County in this case but many sketches and paintings were made of the people and landscape in the community. These were formulated into a plan and idea that would be enjoyable to look at. Every detail in the mural had to have a study made for it. By study the painter means a sketch or drawing. These drawings included hands, boots, shirts, pants and faces. The face of the CCC boy was entirely imaginative but the one of the forest ranger was the head of Mr. Wilson who posed so that it might be called an authoritative head of a ranger.
"This painter thoroughly enjoyed his work in Haleyville because the people were enthusiastic about the work and because they were the most sincerely cordial and likeable people he had ever met. He would like to say that the atmosphere in Haleyville was the one of the finest he has ever been in, and his work went forward with greatest rapidity and smoothness, with the only distraction being the pretty girls that seemed to over flow every part of the city.
The location of the-is painting remains a mystery. It would certainly be worth the effort to locate it and restore it to it's original setting.