Thursday, July 6, 2017

History in Everyday Places

Recently we attended the annual Willa Cather Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and I was reminded how everyday we have occasions to learn more about the history of our nation and our region.  One of the speakers, Bob Ferguson, a stamp collector, spoke about images on stamps which share history.  Among the images he displayed during his talk was the one to the right, showing the stamp recognizing The Homestead Act.

The image shows a dugout which may very well resemble the type of dwelling Isaac B. Werner built when he first arrived in Stafford County, Kansas.  Partly dug into the earth and partly created with blocks of sod stacked to create walls, it would have been suitable for land like Isaac's where the terrain was less satisfactory for creating a cave.

Mr. Ferguson also showed the first day cover of the stamp honoring Nebraska's first homesteader.  With stamps from his own collection and images taken from the internet, he used stamps to share the history that is to be found in everyday places.  Even the more commonplace stamps we use can remind us of our past, not only historic events but also memorable people--politicians, sports figures, scientists, authors, and movie stars to suggest a few.

We also stepped inside the Red Cloud post office to enjoy another example of history in everyday places.  The paintings on the walls of the post office remind visitors of history in two ways.  First, the subjects of the paintings depict "Loading Cattle," "Stockade Builders," and "Moving Westward."

Second, the paintings also remind visitors of the 1930s and 1940s when they were created.  I had mistakenly believed that the post office art was the result of the Work Projects (WPA) initiated during the Depression to provide employment of various kinds, including the employment of artists to decorate government buildings with murals.  However, the post office art was created under the authority of the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department.  Artists of respected talent were selected by the Section of Fine Arts to decorate public buildings--if funding was available.

The art in the Red Cloud Post Office is oil on canvas created by artist Archie Musick in 1941.  He is considered a Regionalist, and he studied with Thomas Hart Benton.  He developed a particular technique using egg tempera and colored pencil, which technique he employed the remaining years of his career for smaller paintings.  He also authored the book Musick Medley:  Intimate Memories of a Rocky Mountain Art Colony, which described the art world of the Colorado Springs area from the 1920s to the 1950s.

So, while I have chosen to share history through my writing, there are places for us to be made aware of history all around us, including while doing such every-day tasks as adhering a stamp to an envelope and entering a post office to mail a letter.

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