A View From The Attic
27 April 2009
by Ruth Lauman
Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal
The WPA Federal=2 Art project was the first major attempt at
government patronage of the visual arts in the United States and the
most extensive and influential of the visual arts projects conceived
during the Depression of the 1930’s by the administration of
President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
William Edward Lewis Bunn’s “Festival at Hamburg” for the Hamburg
Post Office was a Fine Arts Section commission for which Bunn was
paid $670. He was born May 29, 1910 in Muscatine, Iowa and studied
under Grant Wood. His painting for the Hamburg Post office was a
tempura on canvas mural measured 11’ 10” x 4’. It was contracted for
on May 2, 1940 and installed July 17, 1941. The mural portrayed the
Hamburg Peony Festival, predecessor of the present-day popcorn
The annual Peony Festival, with the cooperation of the Inter-State
Nurseries, consisted of several days of banqueting, pageantry,
street parades, street dancing and flower exhibits. Certainly Bunn
portrayed a lively, festive event in his mural. It graced the area
over the old post office lobby for 25 years or so, when expansion of
the present post office brought down the canvas scene.
Dr. Harvey Bang, a serious amateur artist, took on the task of
removing the already fading canvas from the plaster walls, with an
eye to restoring it in his basement studio. It was not to be. Bang
soon discovered that the alkaline content of the plaster had rotted
the canvas beyond repair, and he only started restoration of one end
before abandoning the project.
In about 1984, the Hamburg Library Board commissioned Jim Zuck,
Hamburg artist, to start from scratch to reproduce the once-famous
mural, which he did. The only things he had to go by were black and
white photos Dr. Bang had taken of the original while still on the
post office wall, and the shreds of canvas Bang could not restore.
From that, Zuck reproduced with great accuracy and detail, the
original painting, and that mural hangs on the south wall of the
The GSA pulled some of its WPA art out of the basement in February
1987 and reissued it in poster form. One of the sketch studies
brought back from obscurity and reproduced in full color on
government posters was the Hamburg scene.
The local Arts Council, through the Iowa Arts Council, arranged to
have a replica of the original painted by fine arts conservator Tony
Rajer. He and his class of art students at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison did just that, and their work now hangs in the
Hamburg post office lobby. It adds sparkle, class and folksy charm
to the post office. Come and see it.